sub·​text | \ˈsəb-ˌtekst \

Definition of subtext 

: the implicit or metaphorical meaning (as of a literary text)

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Other Words from subtext

subtextual \ˌsəb-​ˈteks-​chə-​wəl, -​chəl \ adjective
subtextually adverb

Did You Know?

A literary text often has more than one meaning: the literal meaning of the words on the page, and their hidden meaning, what exists "between the lines"—the subtext. Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, for example, is about the Salem witchcraft trials of the 17th century, but its subtext is the comparison of those trials with the "witch hunts" of the 1950s, when many people were unfairly accused of being communists. Even a social conversation between a man and a woman may have a subtext, but you may have to listen very closely to figure out what it is. Don't confuse subtext with subplot, a less important plot that moves along in parallel with the main plot.

Examples of subtext in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

But the unspoken subtext raises a shadowy question: If Dunham was a man, if her health issue wasn’t a women’s health issue, would anyone ask if her illness was all in her head? Calin Van Paris, Vogue, "Lena Dunham Gets Real About Her Latest Surgery—And the Gender Bias Around Women’s Health Issues," 17 Oct. 2018 Adding to the release’s hilariously backpedaling subtext: its failure to even mention the name of the Outstanding Popular Film award. Devon Maloney, The Verge, "Academy backpedals on Popular Oscar idea, realizing it needs workshopping," 6 Sep. 2018 So, instead of generalizing an entire Spanish-speaking community by a using a masculine or feminine subtext, just opt for gender-neutrality. Araceli Cruz, Teen Vogue, "Merriam-Webster Dictionary Adds "Latinx" and More Than 840 Other Words," 5 Sep. 2018 In a follow-up tweet, Mr. Trump made the subtext of his argument clear, which is that the U.S. needs tough immigration laws to avoid such problems. CBS News, "Trump says crime in Germany is way up, but it's actually down," 18 June 2018 Here Eder somehow sustains a classic-pop sensibility while pursuing the song’s darkest subtext. Howard Reich,, "Linda Eder hits a personal best with 'If You See Me'," 2 July 2018 But the partisan subtext and objectives were different in each case. Vladimir Kogan, Washington Post, "Do low-turnout elections make the electorate more conservative? Not that much.," 7 Mar. 2018 This tension often hides in the subtext of political debates. Alvin Chang, Vox, "The fraught racial politics of entrance exams for elite high schools," 14 June 2018 Affable joshing between the two provides subtext to a greater dysfunction that blossoms into banishment before the final curtain. Jordan Riefe, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Henry IV': Theater Review," 9 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'subtext.' 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 subtext

1862, in the meaning defined above

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Last Updated

19 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for subtext

The first known use of subtext was in 1862

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with subtext

Nglish: Translation of subtext for Spanish Speakers

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living or existing for a long time

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