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

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 Speculation roars into overdrive, with everything down to the lighting cues being analyzed for subtext. Anna Silman, The Cut, "A History of Janelle Monáe and Tessa Thompson’s Maybe-More-Than Friendship," 26 Apr. 2018 Sibling rivalry is a consistent subtext but only that — Mr. Adrià’s main concern is to create. Laura Collado, New York Times, "Review: In ‘Constructing Albert,’ a Chef’s Ambition, Meticulously Plated," 5 July 2018 The show tends to skim the surface of its heavy subtext, and is quick to turn drama into a punch line, regardless of where the drama comes from or at whose expense the comedy hits. Sonia Saraiya, HWD, "Marc Maron Is Great in GLOW, and Maybe That’s a Problem," 29 June 2018 All of that is subtext when Los Federales take the stage. Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, "The Border Patrol tries to win over Hispanic communities — by singing love songs in Spanish," 24 May 2018 Trump’s morning tweets might signal confidence on the surface, but their subtext is unease. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Cheers on Trade War With China As Stocks Tumble," 4 Apr. 2018 Theatrical breakout potential for Volcano will depend on astute marketing, but timely political subtext and an Oscar-friendly track record should help. Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Volcano': Film Review | Karlovy Vary 2018," 13 July 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

8 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for subtext

The first known use of subtext was in 1862

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