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

To Rowe, the subtext was validation that her own feelings were normal. Nicole Blackwood,, "“Violet Surprise: A FemSlash Parody Festival” queers popular media, helping audiences ask and answer “What if?”," 5 Aug. 2019 The subtext here is one idea that feels premmature and another that feels like blasphemy. Andrew Sharp,, "NBA's 2020 Watch List: The Year That Could Define Joel Embiid," 23 July 2019 But the subtext is serious: The stigmatization of menstruation, the show implies, is part of a broader tradition of oppressing, controlling and silencing women. Celia Wren, Washington Post, "A little earnest absurdism about bodily functions goes a long way in the Welders’ ‘LadyM’," 16 July 2019 In book form, Watchmen and Powers were packed with easter eggs and subtext that delighted longtime comic readers. Peter Rubin, WIRED, "Amazon's The Boys Tests the Limits of Superhero Fatigue," 26 July 2019 The video takes any of the song’s ambiguity and subtext and lights it up in dynamite. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "The Paradox of Madonna’s Gun-Control Music Video," 3 July 2019 None of Trump’s nine bilateral meetings over two days on the sidelines of the G-20 conference were more eagerly anticipated or laden with subtext than this one. Eli Stokols,, "‘Don’t meddle in the election,’ Trump tells Putin with a smile," 28 June 2019 Barnatan brought forth lyric poetry even in the robust, brightly animated finale, the pianist addressing the subtext beneath the surface charm. Howard Reich,, "Grant Park review: Inon Barnatan sublime in Mozart Piano Concerto," 17 June 2019 That should be a concern, since one key subtext in missile defense is whether the systems can actually be relied upon to stop enemy attacks. Tim Fernholz, Quartz, "What’s driving defense consolidation? Missile money," 15 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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Last Updated

13 Aug 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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to shake or wave menacingly

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