sub·​tle·​ty | \ ˈsə-tᵊl-tē How to pronounce subtlety (audio) \
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 Despite the subtlety, Pluto still affects our lives, in very specific ways. Elizabeth Gulino,, "Pluto Retrograde Isn’t Like Mercury Retrograde — But It Will Bring Big Changes," 27 Apr. 2021 The wine aged for 10 months in French-oak barrels, with only 26 percent new, so as not to overwhelm the subtlety of the Pinot. Jeremy Repanich, Robb Report, "How CJ McCollum Created the NBA’s Most Coveted Wine," 24 Apr. 2021 Negative language and tone are a subtle but powerful way to silence others, and meetings are one place that masters of subtlety ply this skill. Andrea Hill, Forbes, "Bias Interruptus: How To Go Beyond Just Talking About Being An Ally," 18 Apr. 2021 The Lychee Garden featured dried rose petals and lychee bits in a drink with subtlety rather than overt sweetness. oregonlive, "These are Portland’s 10 best boba tea shops," 13 Apr. 2021 Perhaps subtlety isn’t what’s called for with such material. Bilge Ebiri, Vulture, "The Man Who Sold His Skin," 9 Apr. 2021 With subtlety and a solemnity reflecting key events in Claire’s past, Evans offers a powerful refusal of the false equivalence. Washington Post, "The Office of Historical Corrections," 15 Jan. 2021 But Glossier, which is known for its subtlety, was poised and ready for the no-makeup makeup revolution of 2020. Sarah Madaus, SELF, "15 Things to Scoop Up at Glossier’s Only Sale of the Year," 26 Nov. 2020 With subtlety and wit, Amer’s garden sculpture conjures Eve’s biblical banishment, while transforming a big, manicured lawn into a sly abstraction of a putting green at a desert golf course. Los Angeles Times, "Review: Desert X has a great big wall. Beyond that, this art biennial feels thin," 16 Mar. 2021

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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Time Traveler for subtlety

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for subtlety

Last Updated

2 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Subtlety.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 May. 2021.

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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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