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 piece sparked a public conversation regarding the nuances of the #MeToo movement. Jodi Guglielmi, PEOPLE.com, "Aziz Ansari Talks Sexual Misconduct Allegation in New Standup Special: I 'Felt Like I Died'," 9 July 2019 His nuance — reading defenses, knowing when to push and when to get into half-court sets, decision-making in the half-court offense — will be. K.c. Johnson, chicagotribune.com, "Bulls first-round pick Coby White hopes to begin a smooth — and sometimes speedy — NBA transition in the summer league," 3 July 2019 Nodding to the past while adding her own subtle nuances, Collins is a study in a vintage tribute done right. Lauren Valenti, Vogue, "Lily Collins Channels Priscilla Presley on Her Wedding Day to Elvis at Met Gala 2019," 7 May 2019 Players and the National Basketball Players’ Association will surely notice that nuance and appreciate it. Michael Mccann, SI.com, "Adam Silver Fines Knicks, James Dolan With NBA Reputation In Mind," 24 June 2019 Greenwood and O’Brien are the heart of the group, using guitars (sometimes in conjunction with keyboards) to add layers of color, nuance and spice to the basic rock mix. Anne Nickoloff, cleveland.com, "Radiohead’s minidisc release includes version of ‘Lift’ recorded in Cleveland," 14 June 2019 Online interactions often replace live hangouts, and by comparison are thin and bloodless, lacking the nuance and depth of old-fashioned conversation. Washington Post, "Empathy is on the decline in this country. A new book describes what we can do to bring it back.," 11 June 2019 These spaces are intended for everyone, and pay the same attention to simple design, balanced nuance and act as a throughway between the interior and exterior world. Vanessa Lawrence, ELLE Decor, "Atelier Ace's New New York City Hotel Wants to Help You Clear Your Head," 14 May 2019 Many things in warfare, naturally, are often a complex byproduct of a range of more subjectively determined factors – impacted by concepts, personalities, individual psychology, historical nuances and larger sociological phenomena. Kris Osborn, Fox News, "Pentagon makes massive new AI push for tanks, ships, weapons, drones and networks," 19 July 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.

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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

Statistics for nuance

Last Updated

17 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for nuance

The first known use of nuance was in 1781

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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

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