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

This is the subtext of all paparazzi photos, a form here perfected on the first try. David Netto, Town & Country, "Was This Photo of an Austrian Empress the World's First Paparazzi Photo?," 7 Aug. 2019 California leaders’ preference for the PUC as solvent for bureaucratic clogs was the subtext of the recent debate over wildfire legislation. Joe Mathews, The Mercury News, "Mathews: California PUC seems to regulate everything. What’s next?," 28 July 2019 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

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

27 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for subtext

The first known use of subtext was in 1862

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More from Merriam-Webster on subtext

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with subtext

Nglish: Translation of subtext for Spanish Speakers

Comments on subtext

What made you want to look up subtext? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to spread over or through

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