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

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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
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Recent Examples on the Web

These shows were not exactly known for nuance—the point was to guide the viewer through a crime scene puzzle and then clearly explain the solution, all in under half an hour. Rachel Syme, The New Republic, "How The Staircase Defined True Crime Series," 11 June 2018 Our palate went completely numb to the nuances of hops around the ninth or tenth IPA, so sorting between dozens of entrants seems like a impossible task. Daniel Barnes, sacbee, "These IPAs hop to the top at Sacramento Beer Week's Track 7 Invitational | The Sacramento Bee," 25 May 2018 But despite Spielberg’s position of privilege in the industry, a closer look at the rest of his interview suggests there’s more nuance to his views. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Steven Spielberg's Netflix Fears," 27 Mar. 2018 There is room for nuance on almost every single one of the issues in our national conversation. David L. Bahnsen, National Review, "A New Era of Angst and How to Navigate It," 13 Feb. 2018 The nuances of white voice and other means of cultural codes are complicated to say the least., "Sorry To Bother You," 10 July 2018 As someone who spends much of the day deep in policy nuance, I was taken aback by the obvious simplicity of his logic. San Francisco Chronicle, "Last week my father built a lemonade stand with my 5-year-old son. After some sawing, drilling and several coats of yellow paint, my little capitalist opened his small business in front of a Muni stop. In two hours, they made $23.," 25 June 2018 Many have been riddled with scientific errors, uninformed by history or lacking in nuance and clarity when discussing interpretations of patterns of human genetic variation. Jennifer Raff, New York Times, "In an Age of Gene Editing and Surrogacy, What Does Heredity Mean?," 31 May 2018 But for those who aren’t versed in the nuances of the funding fight, there’s a key question: What would that money buy? Faiz Siddiqui, Washington Post, "Here’s how Metro says it would spend $15.5 billion over a decade," 17 Mar. 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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Statistics for nuance

Last Updated

11 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for nuance

The first known use of nuance was in 1781

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English Language Learners Definition of nuance

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

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Comments on nuance

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the setting in which something occurs

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