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

The White Rose of York is subtlety embroidered on both the shoulder and back which hold together the cape. The Editors, Marie Claire, "Princess Eugenie's Zac Posen Second Wedding Dress Was a Totally Different Look," 13 Oct. 2018 All these subtleties would need to be considered for any benchmark or regulation. James Vincent, The Verge, "The tech industry doesn’t have a plan for dealing with bias in facial recognition," 26 July 2018 Barber even subtlety tweeted out the lyrics mentioning her on Sunday (July 8). Michael Saponara, Billboard, "Decoding All of Drake's References on 'In My Feelings'," 13 July 2018 But like most things, there's a subtlety that's easily missed: While the motorcycles are assembled in the United States, Harley already does some manufacturing and assembly internationally, in India, Australia, Brazil and Thailand. Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY, "Trump's battle with Harley-Davidson over foreign tariffs tests motorcycle riders' loyalty," 28 June 2018 Actually, asthma symptoms can present with a lot more complexity and subtlety than that. Korin Miller, SELF, "9 Asthma Symptoms Absolutely Everyone Should Know," 1 June 2018 There are doubtless cultural subtleties and local references at work here which non-Japanese audiences will miss. Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Asako I & II' ('Netemo sametemo'): Film Review | Cannes 2018," 14 May 2018 Instead, obliterating any of the detail and subtlety of the original composition, the wide-eyed St. George was given a fleshy peach face and wide brown eyes, one of which seems to have wandered a bit too far to the right. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Restorationist Botches 16th-Century Spanish Statue of Saint," 28 June 2018 Every thought and motive is spelled out with declamatory zeal, and the lack of subtext, or even subtlety, is particularly problematic when trying to incorporate the complexities of gender inequality and sexuality. Philip Brandes,, "In 'Lysistrata Unbound,' the women go to war against war," 22 June 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

14 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for subtlety

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

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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

Comments on subtlety

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


playful or foolish behavior

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