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

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 That’s because the subtext of those orders, such as those issued by the governors of Iowa and Texas, is coercive. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, "Column: States with early reopening orders are coercing workers into risking their lives," 1 May 2020 Was the subtext of Canto Bight just as impactful for you? Brian Davids, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Star Wars' Star Kelly Marie Tran on the Challenge of Shooting Leia's Scenes," 31 Dec. 2019 The series rarely leans on subtext when broad, boldfaced text will do. Philippa Snow, The New Republic, "The Brilliant Fault Lines of Little Fires Everywhere," 19 Mar. 2020 But there was also a strange subtext that implied that Derek (Seater) and Casey (Leggat)… were kind of… into each other. Sydney Bucksbaum,, "Life With Derek stars hilariously support that incest speculation: 'I still go down with this ship'," 21 Jan. 2020 By the season 3 finale, all such resentful subtext has become text. Ariana Romero,, "Don't Have Time To Watch Jessica Jones Season 3? This Is How It Ends," 15 June 2019 Indeed, in recommendations like those before last weekend’s L.A. marathon, there’s a subtext of how impossible social distancing seems in some situations. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, "The Guy Who Wore a Giant Donut in Public to Enforce Social Distancing Is the Hero We Need," 13 Mar. 2020 Of course, there’s a subtext to this in the tightrope Golden State has had to walk all season with Durant’s free agency looming as the big existential issue over what becomes of their dynasty. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Warriors' wishful thinking on Kevin Durant has been just as destructive as his absence," 8 June 2019 Think: part psychologist, part anthropologist, part subtext ninja. Carolyn Hax, al, "Carolyn Hax: Find the subtext in friend’s constant jabs at your life choices," 23 Aug. 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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Time Traveler for subtext

Time Traveler

The first known use of subtext was in 1862

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Last Updated

20 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Subtext.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2020.

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with subtext

Nglish: Translation of subtext for Spanish Speakers

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