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

My personal wish list also includes: lightness, subtlety and an absence of clunky hardware. Rory Satran, WSJ, "We Found the Perfect Women’s Work Bags," 24 May 2018 Hank Anderson—a hard-boiled, alcoholic android-skeptic—shows a subtlety and humor that is almost entirely lacking from the rest of the game. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "Detroit: Become Human review: Robotic in all of the wrong ways," 24 May 2018 And there are zombies about, which sounds like very familiar territory, but Cargo is an apocalypse film of unusual subtlety and suspense. Taylor Antrim, Vogue, "Which (If Any) of These New Netflix Original Movies Should You Watch?," 23 May 2018 Those values define the kitchen, where executive chef Sugunya Lunz scrupulously prepares a New American/Continental menu rich in flavors and combinations, tempered by subtlety and nuance. Tim Smith,, "Exceptional food, pleasant setting at Kings Contrivance Restaurant," 17 May 2018 The whole sequence is a masterclass in editing that walks the fine line between subtlety and gimmickry—every choice feels notable without dominating the storytelling. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Remembering the Cinematic Magic of Anne V. Coates," 10 May 2018 And while the four-person cast show impressive range and depth, especially given the material, director Jacob Harvey often pushes them to breathless extremes that rob the evening of subtlety and truth. Justin Hayford, Chicago Reader, "Greenhouse Theater’s Birds of a Feather never really takes flight," 11 May 2018 Reds/Pinks The new trend veers towards subtlety, and blurring the lines between red and orange. Meghan Overdeep, Southern Living, "Experts Say These Are the Most Popular Paint Colors Right Now," 28 June 2018 The subtleties of Rhoads’ work are so satisfying, best observed from up close. Lauren Warnecke,, "Lucky Plush triple threats are smart and funny, but these works don’t work on the Harris stage," 27 Apr. 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

19 Sep 2018

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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

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).


occurring twice a year or every two years

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