nuance

noun
nu·​ance | \ˈnü-ˌän(t)s, 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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from nuance

nuanced \ˈnü-​ˌän(t)st, ˈnyü-​; nü-​ˈän(t)st, nyü-​ \ adjective

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
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Turner worked on Martin O’Malley’s 2016 presidential campaign and represents a class of young operatives eager to put their time learning the political nuances of Iowa’s 99 counties to use on politics’ largest stage. Thomas Beaumont, The Seattle Times, "2020 Democratic contenders already eyeing top staff in Iowa," 21 Nov. 2018 Here, Willink and Babin get granular into the nuances that every successful leader must navigate. Fox News, "'The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win' by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin," 24 Sep. 2018 The stories teased out some nuance, but all across the media landscape, an overall assessment took shape: In one of the last primaries of this midterm season, one more woman of color beat one more establishment white man at the ballot box. Mattie Kahn, Glamour, "When a Woman Wins, It Doesn't Mean She's an 'Upset.' It Means She Ran a Better Race.," 5 Sep. 2018 Now the two-dozen shades will be able to cover the ground of very deep skin tones as well as very pale and the tricky nuances of those with skin tones in between. Sable Yong, Allure, "Milk Makeup Is Expanding Its Blur Matte Foundation and Flex Concealer Shades," 23 July 2018 Thus far, Jones’ legal arguments remain embroiled in the nuances of free speech: Specifically, what kind of platform constitutes a serious media institution, and what kind of actions signify a public figure. Casey Newton, The Verge, "Apple crushed Alex Jones — then tossed him a lifeline," 8 Aug. 2018 Kean inherited these subjects from his earlier documentary Swimming in Auschwitz, and has said that gender informs the film – the women are particularly attuned to the emotional nuance of the survival story, which comes through beautifully. Gary Thompson, Philly.com, "'After Auschwitz': The women who lived to tell, and the inspiring lives they've lived," 26 Apr. 2018 The red wine butter sauce hinted of grapes, giving it a structure that dovetailed with the smoky nuances of the seafood. San Francisco Chronicle, "Women chefs star at the 4-star Chez Panisse," 1 Feb. 2018 Researchers may not understand a lot of the nuances of what people in the education and legal policy world call school climate. Randy Rieland, Smithsonian, "Can Artificial Intelligence Help Stop School Shootings?," 22 June 2018

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about nuance

Listen to Our Podcast about nuance

Dictionary Entries near nuance

n-type

nu

NU

nuance

nub

Nuba

nubber

Statistics for nuance

Last Updated

4 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for nuance

The first known use of nuance was in 1781

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for nuance

nuance

noun

English Language Learners Definition of nuance

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

What made you want to look up nuance? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a soft lustrous wool fabric with mohair

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!