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

Hemings is, literally, made a stick figure, which takes the nuance from what must have been a complicated situation. Brian T. Allen, National Review, "The American Pavilion in the Venice Biennale: Safe and Sorry," 10 Aug. 2019 Though this corner of Lolla world is notorious for its wall-to-wall EDM thump, Clozee went for insinuating grooves and melodic nuance. Kevin Williams, chicagotribune.com, "Lollapalooza 2019: Things we loved, 1 band we didn’t and a mayor sighting on day 1," 1 Aug. 2019 Francella is efficient in a role that lacks nuance, while Lago successfully works Barbara up into an edgy, femme-fatale combination of the seductive and the ruthless. Jonathan Holland, The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Weasel’s Tale' ('El Cuento de las Comadrejas'): Film Review," 23 July 2019 And there is always a fascinating rhythm: Even if a song is framed by a straightforward meter, listeners can dig into the nuances within in, losing themselves in a trance. Elizabeth Nonemaker, baltimoresun.com, "Vieux Farka Touré brings the sounds of Mali to Baltimore," 19 July 2019 And, Lu said that the GOAT team has been learning from its Chinese staff about all of the nuances of doing business there. Fortune, "After $100 Million Foot Locker Investment, Sneaker Marketplace GOAT Launches New App in China," 22 July 2019 But the nuance of Trump's shifts all week had been lost on many in the crowd of thousands at the East Carolina University auditorium. Anchorage Daily News, "‘He always doubles down’: Inside the political crisis caused by Trump’s racist tweets," 21 July 2019 By studying a range of populations, scientists can see how dementia strikes unequally—and gain insight into possibly overlooked nuances of the disease. Katherine Ellen Foley, Quartz, "Excluding minorities from Alzheimer’s research is wrong—and it’s keeping us from finding a cure," 19 July 2019 Stable isotope analysis, the study of the nuances of elements in archaeological materials, can unlock all sorts of secrets about climate, diet, and the geographical origins of bones and other materials. Erin Blakemore, National Geographic, "Where you grew up, what you ate—your bones record your life," 18 July 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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Dictionary Entries near nuance

n-type

nu

NU

nuance

nuanced

nub

Nuba

Statistics for nuance

Last Updated

14 Aug 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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