sub·​tle·​ty | \ ˈsə-tᵊl-tē \
plural subtleties

Definition of subtlety

1 : the quality or state of being subtle
2 : something subtle

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Examples of subtlety in a Sentence

The pianist performed with subtlety and passion. we appreciated the subtlety with which our host indicated that it was time to leave: he volunteered to pack us a little lunch for the road

Recent Examples on the Web

Another loss of subtlety, although there are hair salons for that: more work. Alison Rose, Town & Country, "Hot Pursuit," 16 Dec. 2012 Magazine Madagascar rewards visitors with an appetite for subtlety. Tom Downey, WSJ, "Exploring Madagascar Is Now Easier Than Ever," 18 July 2018 Two years before the fateful Bridge on the River Kwai, Lean still shows some sense of subtlety, and Summertime contains some glowing moments. Patrick Friel, Chicago Reader, "Film / On Video / Small Screen / The Internet David Lean, FilmStruck’s ‘director of the week,’ has more to offer than just Lawrence of Arabia," 8 May 2018 With varying degrees of subtlety, most of the record’s songs speak to frustrations with current sociopolitical situations. Bob Gendron,, "Wit and whimsy ever present at Decemberists' Chicago Theatre show," 11 Apr. 2018 Today’s animal-print clothing for men often exhibits more subtlety than Rod Stewart’s full-on leopard suit. Jacob Gallagher, WSJ, "Leopard: Keith Richards Wore It, But Would You?," 12 Dec. 2018 Imagine trying to build an artificial intelligence that could capture this subtlety. Brittan Heller, WIRED, "What Mark Zuckerberg Gets Wrong—and Right—About Hate Speech," 2 May 2018 And more often than not, Kavanaugh does not acknowledge those subtleties, or simply chooses not to. Alexia Fernández Campbell, Vox, "Kavanaugh is presenting himself as a #MeToo ally. His record shows he is not.," 6 Sep. 2018 Maybe shifts in vocal tone? Tiny subtleties in sleep patterns? Rob Reid, Ars Technica, "Ars on your lunch break: An early warning is key to kicking cancer," 25 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'subtlety.' 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 subtlety

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for subtlety

Middle English sotilte, subtilte, from Anglo-French sotilté, from Latin subtilitat-, subtilitas, from subtilis

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Statistics for subtlety

Last Updated

7 Feb 2019

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Time Traveler for subtlety

The first known use of subtlety was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for subtlety



English Language Learners Definition of subtlety

: the quality or state of being subtle
: a small detail that is usually important but not obvious

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More from Merriam-Webster on subtlety

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for subtlety

Spanish Central: Translation of subtlety

Nglish: Translation of subtlety for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of subtlety for Arabic Speakers

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