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 Katy thinks this set up really plays to Jonny’s advantage because the more intimate space allows the subtleties in his voice to really come through. Maggie Fremont,, "American Idol recap: The Top 20 make the most of first-ever remote show," 27 Apr. 2020 When the ruckus dissipated into delicate tones with the strings at the forefront, the piece invited listeners to notice the subtleties in each sonority., "BSO and Andris Nelsons open the Symphony Hall season with a sweet, eclectic program - The Boston Globe," 21 Sep. 2019 Horton Foote’s script and Bruce Beresford’s direction demand subtlety that only pros like Duvall and Harper can harness. Ben Flanagan |, al, "Our favorite Southern moms in movies and TV," 9 May 2020 Complex subtlety, along with citrus and caramel notes, are this traditional Campbeltown whisky’s hallmarks. Elin Mccoy,, "How To Start a Whisky Collection," 27 Apr. 2020 Such subtlety, combined with the enormous number of texts being sent, could make such manipulations difficult to detect. Wired Opinion, Wired, "Texts From Politicians Could Be More Dangerous Than Ever," 4 Apr. 2020 The spot began to circulate widely on Chinese social media on Wednesday as gay groups praised it for its good-natured humor and subtlety. NBC News, "China's gay community praises Alibaba for ad with same-sex couple," 9 Jan. 2020 Big Little Lies, for all its subtleties, might as well be set in a Pinterest board. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, "Why Succession Works So Well as Horror," 13 Oct. 2019 Their subtlety also reflects the risk that organizers face to their careers. Eshe Nelson, Quartz, "Economics needs to do more than attract women to solve its gender problem," 11 June 2019

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

29 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Subtlety.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for subtlety


How to pronounce subtlety (audio)

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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