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

This movie could have gone in a very exploitative, sensationalized direction, but there was a lot of depth and nuance. Jessica Radloff, Glamour, "Alyssa Milano's New Lifetime Movie Will Make You Uncomfortable—On Purpose," 15 June 2019 Context and nuance are difficult for a machine to understand. John Markoff, New York Times, "Stanford Team Aims at Alexa and Siri With a Privacy-Minded Alternative," 14 June 2019 At the fest, be prepared to immerse yourself in some distinctive music with its own unique vibes and nuances. Jen Banowetz, chicagotribune.com, "Have some folky fun at Riverside fest at Cantigny," 13 June 2019 As a result of its discussions with developers, the company says the new Declarative Net Request API will support dynamic rules as a page is loading, not just static declarations that may lack nuance. Lily Hay Newman, WIRED, "Google Says It Isn't Killing Ad Blockers. Ad Blockers Disagree," 12 June 2019 Puro Politics is a Monday podcast hosted by columnist Gilbert Garcia, covering the drama and nuance of local government issues. Gilbert Garcia, ExpressNews.com, "Podcast: Tuning in to San Antonio’s summer re-Ron, the election of an incumbent mayor," 12 June 2019 Andreas writes, dismayed by the critical desire for stylistic polish, for harmony and nuance, for an anodyne realism that manipulates the reader into positions of quasi-philosophical profundity. Merve Emre, The New York Review of Books, "‘Dismembered, Relocated, Rearranged’," 6 June 2019 But for stores selling beauty products, the topic requires extra nuance. Sophia Kunthara, SFChronicle.com, "Beauty store diversity in spotlight as Sephora closes for training," 4 June 2019 The finale left the show with more questions than answers, and legions of disappointed fans expecting better of a series that spent so much time dwelling on detail and nuance its first six seasons. Julie Kosin, Harper's BAZAAR, "The Game of Thrones Finale Is Filled with Plot Holes and Twitter Is Calling Them All Out," 20 May 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

19 Jun 2019

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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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