nuance

noun
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

Thus far, Jones’ legal arguments remain embroiled in the nuances of free speech: Specifically, what kind of platform constitutes a serious media institution, and what kind of actions signify a public figure. Casey Newton, The Verge, "Apple crushed Alex Jones — then tossed him a lifeline," 8 Aug. 2018 Kean inherited these subjects from his earlier documentary Swimming in Auschwitz, and has said that gender informs the film – the women are particularly attuned to the emotional nuance of the survival story, which comes through beautifully. Gary Thompson, Philly.com, "'After Auschwitz': The women who lived to tell, and the inspiring lives they've lived," 26 Apr. 2018 The red wine butter sauce hinted of grapes, giving it a structure that dovetailed with the smoky nuances of the seafood. San Francisco Chronicle, "Women chefs star at the 4-star Chez Panisse," 1 Feb. 2018 Researchers may not understand a lot of the nuances of what people in the education and legal policy world call school climate. Randy Rieland, Smithsonian, "Can Artificial Intelligence Help Stop School Shootings?," 22 June 2018 Eureka is solid, but the judges expect way more, landing her in the bottom with Kameron, whose character was devoid of nuance. Joey Guerra, Houston Chronicle, "'RuPaul's Drag Race' Season 10 recap: Two to make it right," 18 May 2018 Her husband - a teacher of academics - Inez was a teacher of the nuances of life. courant.com, "Inez R. Campo," 9 May 2018 While the prices might seem a little high, keep in mind that these tacos are big and loaded with nuance. James Patrick Kelly, idahostatesman, "Boise’s trendy new taquerias redefine the taco – and diners get to taste the difference," 27 June 2018 But that is not the same as listening comprehension or constructing a speech that can either be spoken or written or understanding the nuances of claims, meaning what supports a proposition or what may be against a proposition. Edward C. Baig And Ryan Suppe, USA TODAY, "IBM shows off an artificial intelligence that can debate a human and change some minds," 18 June 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

nub

Nuba

nubber

Statistics for nuance

Last Updated

20 Nov 2018

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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