nuance

noun
nu·​ance | \ ˈnü-ˌän(t)s How to pronounce nuance (audio) , ˈnyü-, -ˌäⁿs; nü-ˈän(t)s, nyü-, -ˈäⁿs\

Definition of nuance

1 : a subtle distinction or variation Nuances of flavor and fragrance cannot be described accurately …— Scott Seegers … these terms have certain nuances of meaning …— Ben F. Nelms
2 : a subtle quality : nicety … the nuances of an individual's voice …— Michael Swaine
3 : sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value) … a performance of remarkable pliability and nuance.— Irvine Kolodin

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Nuance: So Subtle You Might Miss It

Although nuance is defined as "a subtle distinction or variation," the adjective subtle is frequently seen modifying the noun:

Ms. Fyfield is remarkably thorough in her psychological profiles, giving subtle nuances to characters who are mere passers-by in this psychodrama.
Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review, 27 Aug. 1989

Still, the beloved diva sustained exquisite control of her vast vocal resources, enriching line after line with gleaming tone and subtle nuance.
Martin Bernheimer, The Financial Times, 15 Nov. 2016

Since the definition of nuance already connotes subtlety—we don't speak of blatant or obvious nuances—some might regard the use of subtle as a modifier here to be redundant. But the fact of its frequent use is an indication that the connotation of subtlety in nuance might itself be too subtle to be picked up by many English speakers.

Did You Know?

The history of "nuance" starts in Latin with the noun nubes, meaning "cloud." "Nubes" floated into Middle French as nue, also meaning "cloud," and "nue" gave rise to nuer, meaning "to make shades of color." "Nuer" in turn produced "nuance," which in Middle French meant shade of color. English borrowed "nuance" from French, with the meaning "a subtle distinction or variation," in the late 18th century. That use persists today. Additionally, "nuance" is sometimes used in a specific musical sense, designating a subtle, expressive variation in a musical performance (such as in tempo, dynamic intensity, or timbre) that is not indicated in the score.

Examples of nuance in a Sentence

Between the lines of lexicographical nuance and quotation, Johnson was paying old debts and seeking out wisdom about himself and his adopted city, as well as compiling perhaps the greatest commonplace book in the history of mankind. — Andrew O'Hagan, New York Review, 27 Apr. 2006 In every silky statement from General Musharraf about the need for a short—in other words: limited—war, and in every nuance of the Pakistani official posture, I was sure I detected the local version of Schadenfreude. — Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair, January 2002 To La Farge, eccentricity meant convention; a mind really eccentric never betrayed it. True eccentricity was a tone—a shade—a nuance—and the finer the tone, the truer the eccentricity. — Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1907 He listened to the subtle nuances in the song. a poem of little depth and nuance
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Recent Examples on the Web

The exact nuances and minutia of Spears' conservatorship aren't widely available, but the fact that Jamie is her conservator—and has been for over a decade—is common knowledge. Christopher Rosa, Glamour, "Here's Why Britney Spears Fans Are Posting #FreeBritney All Over Social Media," 23 Apr. 2019 But the nuance of socioeconomics can’t hold a candle to the terror of morbidity. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "Why Is There a ‘Gaming Disorder’ But No ‘Smartphone Disorder?’," 28 June 2018 The nuances of context offer special challenges in building smart strategies for healthy technology use and in shifting our interactions with technology from toxic to measured and beneficial. Vivek Wadhwa And Alex Salkever, WIRED, "How Can We Make Technology Healthier for Humans?," 26 June 2018 But this show has always been known for its nuance. Amanda Mitchell, Marie Claire, "'The Bachelor' Recap: An Exercise In Waiting for Colton to Jump the Fence," 12 Feb. 2019 Every Asian culture has its own unique nuances regarding ingredients and spices. Debbi Snook, cleveland.com, "Leftover Easter ham recipes: Soup, salad, stir fry, ham loaf," 28 Mar. 2018 But like every good bourbon, the festivals have their nuances. Bailey Loosemore, The Courier-Journal, "It's not all music at these Louisville festivals. Bourbon's also taking center stage.," 6 Mar. 2018 And with each go-round — Michael Tilson Thomas led the piece just five years ago — Prokofiev’s mastery of orchestral texture, of dramatic flow and of symphonic nuance becomes ever more apparent. Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, "San Francisco Symphony does right by little-known Prokofiev," 4 May 2018 This was way more complex and had so much nuance to it, even in the first few scenes. Jasmin Hernandez, Harper's BAZAAR, "Nomi Ruiz on Making Art That Means Something," 17 Jan. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'nuance.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of nuance

1781, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for nuance

French, from Middle French, shade of color, from nuer to make shades of color, from nue cloud, from Latin nubes; perhaps akin to Welsh nudd mist

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More Definitions for nuance

nuance

noun

English Language Learners Definition of nuance

: a very small difference in color, tone, meaning, etc.

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More from Merriam-Webster on nuance

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with nuance

Spanish Central: Translation of nuance

Nglish: Translation of nuance for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of nuance for Arabic Speakers

Comments on nuance

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