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 subtextual (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

The subtext is clear: Giving 18-year-old Alondra Rivera a place to stay when her mother threw her out on the streets the night before might have seemed like the logical option to us, the five women who make up Alondra’s Open Table mentorship team. Leila Atassi,, "‘It’s too risky for an Open Table member to take in Alondra Rivera when she finds herself homeless.’ That advice comes a little too late: A Greater Cleveland," 20 June 2019 Oh are other examples of food used as the subtext of major plot points. NBC News, "How food became a central storytelling device in Asian American rom-coms," 9 June 2019 Historically, they’ve been shielded from America’s worst policies; after the election, however, they were thrust out of their institution-trusting comfort zone, forced to acknowledge the ills that, as subtext under Obama, became text under Trump. Julianne Tveten, The New Republic, "How corporate America has commodified the protest movements of the Trump era," 4 Apr. 2018 Those scanning this movie for topical subtext, for warnings of what happens when a heavy-handed government tries to stifle freedom and creativity, will have little trouble finding them. Justin Chang,, "Review: ‘Leto’ is a vibrant portrait of Leningrad’s underground ’80s rock scene," 19 June 2019 But in going to that defense, Nurse wrote the subtext of the Raptors’ defensive gameplan in big, red letters across the court: anyone but Curry. Dieter Kurtenbach, The Mercury News, "Kurtenbach: The Raptors paid Steph Curry the ultimate respect and it told us so much about these NBA Finals," 3 June 2019 While neither has mentioned the other's name, the subtext has been clear. Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY, "Biden vs. Sanders and other things to watch in the first Democratic debates," 14 June 2019 Trump’s own relationship to military service was a subtext. The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "Trump in Normandy: ‘We are gathered here on freedom’s altar’," 6 June 2019 So, the subtext to our show is a tribe of people who help one another reach their goals; That’s why Michelle and Ross are important aspects of our talk show — the same with the audience. Joey Nolfi,, "Say 'Amen!' to RuPaul, your new queen of daytime talk," 5 June 2019

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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Statistics for subtext

Last Updated

16 Jul 2019

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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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