sub·​text | \ ˈsəb-ˌtekst How to pronounce subtext (audio) \

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 How to pronounce subtext (audio) , -​chəl \ adjective
subtextually adverb

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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 Throughout his ministry, bad blood between north and south provides much of the subtext of the disputes between Jesus and his critics. Nicholas Frankovich, National Review, "A Minor Grace of the Cross and Easter," 4 Apr. 2021 Chip Roy’s nostalgic homage to lynching carried a lot of weird subtext. Gilbert Garcia, San Antonio Express-News, "Garcia: Chip Roy's weird homage to lynching," 20 Mar. 2021 This is the unwritten subtext of what Paige and Perry, the Snuffleupagus of Summer House, are going through. Brian Moylan, Vulture, "Summer House Recap: Pornin’ Down the House," 8 Apr. 2021 Most of the article is devoted to regaling readers with tales of Rich Parents Behaving Badly, but the subtext is that this behavior has somehow prevented public schools from educating less privileged children. Natalie Wexler, Forbes, "Don’t Blame Privileged Parents For Education Inequity," 6 Apr. 2021 Gargantia has everything: action, environmental subtext, a talking robot, and several canny plot twists. Eric Vilas-boas, Vulture, "The 50 Best Anime Series on Netflix Right Now," 5 Apr. 2021 The subtext, obviously, is that the whole Taylor family are an intense, hyperintelligent, little-bit-nuts family. David Browne, Rolling Stone, "The Return of," 1 Apr. 2021 Searching for Italy, then, is a gift, equally wholesome in intention—Tucci tours Italy and explores how its food intermingles with its history—and knowing in subtext. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, "What Will We Want When We Can Travel Again?," 3 Mar. 2021 The stories have an uppermost layer of luxury — Shay as mistress of the Red House — and a subtext of grotesque violence and danger. Jackie Thomas-kennedy Special To The Star Tribune, Star Tribune, "Review: 'Red Island House,' by Andrea Lee," 19 Mar. 2021

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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The first known use of subtext was in 1862

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Last Updated

5 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Subtext.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 May. 2021.

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Nglish: Translation of subtext for Spanish Speakers

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