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 For Reyes, this project was an opportunity to capture joy, strength and the nuance of the every day in his East San Jose community. Iris M. Crawford, San Francisco Chronicle, "Creatives in Place asks: What do artists need to survive and thrive in the Bay Area?," 1 Feb. 2021 More balanced takes on these themes can be found on television, where long-form storytelling makes ample room for nuance. Lena Wilson, New York Times, "Rape-Revenge Tales: Cathartic? Maybe. Incomplete? Definitely.," 14 Jan. 2021 The premise is straightforward enough—work is mostly bad but doesn’t have to be—but the writer goes deep into the nuance of the subject. The New Republic, "How to Pitch Sold Short," 24 Nov. 2020 Behind layers of protection, my interactions with patients feel dampened of nuance. Jay Baruch, STAT, "As a doctor in the Covid-19 era, I’ve learned that judging patients’ decisions comes easier than it should," 31 Dec. 2020 Dark, disturbing but triumphantly wrought, this miniseries examines consent, love and commitment with a nuance lacking not only in other TV and films, but in many real-life situations. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, "The 15 best TV shows of 2020: From ‘Queen’s Gambit’ to ‘Schitt’s Creek’ to ‘The Great’," 29 Dec. 2020 And the national media, acting out its nuance-free obsession with saviors and villains, plays right along. Washington Post, "Mateo Askaripour’s ‘Black Buck’ is an irresistible comic novel about the tenacity of racism in corporate America," 4 Jan. 2021 Comedies these days are required to have nuance and emotion. Joey Morona, cleveland, "Have a merry streaming Christmas: 20 shows to watch during your socially distant holiday season," 23 Dec. 2020 These cartographic depictions take our vast United States and reduce every nuance of politics down to a dichotomy of blue and red — no texture permitted. Los Angeles Times, "Essential Arts: It’s time to redesign the electoral map," 7 Nov. 2020

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

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Statistics for nuance

Last Updated

21 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Nuance.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nuance. Accessed 1 Mar. 2021.

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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.

More from Merriam-Webster on nuance

Nglish: Translation of nuance for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of nuance for Arabic Speakers

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