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 Winemakers are increasingly taking the trouble to focus on great vineyard sites and coax out nuance in the cellar. Sara L. Schneider, Robb Report, "13 Superb New Sauvignon Blancs to Drink This Spring," 26 Apr. 2021 Every little insight, every nuance helps ahead of Saturday’s Orange-White spring game. Chuck Carlton, Dallas News, "Casey Thompson working to gain every advantage over Hudson Card in Texas’ QB competition," 22 Apr. 2021 Aristotle, the master of measure and nuance, believed that all men (and women) by their nature desire to know. Washington Post, "Remember when high culture was revered? Louis Menand’s ‘The Free World’ made me nostalgic.," 21 Apr. 2021 Approaching the remote onboarding process requires more nuance than in-person. Kristen Gallagher, Forbes, "The Secret To Successful Remote Engineering Is Onboarding," 21 Apr. 2021 On the flip side, Niel Avendano, a Canadian in Toronto who lived in Texas for 20 years, says Canadians often assume that the U.S. is just the worst of what is seen on the nightly news, without any nuance. Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor, "‘Humbling’: Canada’s self-image slides in pandemic as US rebounds," 16 Apr. 2021 Neither the Pfizer nor Moderna vaccines were subjected to the same stress test in clinical trials, but the mainstream media headlines often didn't clearly communicate this nuance. Céline Gounder, CNN, "An abundance of caution and good science are the right way to build trust in vaccines," 15 Apr. 2021 And while Twitter, the place nuance goes to die, might convince you that the show is either flawless or a crime against humanity, the truth is more complex. Judy Berman, Time, "The Controversy Around Amazon's Them Underscores the Trouble With Realistic Violence in Genre TV," 13 Apr. 2021 Only Zac gets a real transformation, but there’s also no nuance to him. Lindsey Bahr, Detroit Free Press, "Young Adult thriller ‘Voyagers’ never quite takes off," 9 Apr. 2021

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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Dictionary Entries near nuance

n-type

nu

NU

nuance

nuanced

nub

Nuba

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Statistics for nuance

Last Updated

4 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Nuance.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nuance. Accessed 11 May. 2021.

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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.

More from Merriam-Webster on nuance

Nglish: Translation of nuance for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of nuance for Arabic Speakers

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