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 The bone-chilling love story chronicles the complex nuances of being black in America through a couple who have been dubbed the modern day black Bonnie and Clyde. Maya Allen, Marie Claire, "Queen & Slim's Costume Designer and Hairstylist on the Film's Powerful Imagery," 13 Dec. 2019 But Bridgman’s job title does not convey any of these nuances. Lila Maclellan, Quartz at Work, "What if the foundational theories about how to run a company have been corrupted?," 9 Dec. 2019 Tsur will speak for hours on the intricacies of Intel’s human resource practices and the nuances of federal antidiscrimination law. oregonlive, "Age discrimination: Intel investigation drags on for years, worker protections lag," 8 Dec. 2019 The nuances of how [being pro-Israel] is expressed becomes less of a factor to most American Jews. Ron Kampeas, sun-sentinel.com, "Why Israel isn’t a top consideration for American Jewish voters," 4 Dec. 2019 Team advisors, such as 2005 Spiders team captain Tracy Campbell, spend equal amounts of time teaching the nuances of three-court basketball as making sure players adhere to the game's long-standing traditions. Rich Scherr, baltimoresun.com, "18 players, 3 courts, 125 years of tradition: Brownie vs. Spider basketball game at St. Timothy’s as spirited as ever," 20 Nov. 2019 As President Donald Trump’s alleged crimes and the impeachment process dominate the news cycle, the nuances of different candidates blur. Lissandra Villa/cedar Falls, Time, "Julián Castro Probably Won't Win the Primary. But His Campaign Is Still Key.," 31 Oct. 2019 Jon Hamm, as the agent who comes after him like a hammer shark, doesn’t exactly earn a gold star for nuance. Leah Greenblatt, EW.com, "Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell is a deeply affecting drama, with a glitch: Review," 11 Dec. 2019 One of his great abilities is his appreciation for nuance. Carolyn Hax, Detroit Free Press, "Boyfriend’s background may rub parents the wrong way," 23 Oct. 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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Time Traveler for nuance

Time Traveler

The first known use of nuance was in 1781

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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

16 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Nuance.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nuances. Accessed 28 January 2020.

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More Definitions for nuance

nuance

noun
How to pronounce nuance (audio)

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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