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

Modern survey methods, like laser scanning, can produce incredibly detailed digital models of a site, right down to the subtleties of carvings or weathering on the surface of a stone block. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, "Archaeologists reconstruct pre-Columbian temple with 3D-printed blocks," 17 Dec. 2018 Scott Olson/Getty Images There’s no subtlety in President Donald Trump’s closing message to voters: Be very scared of brown people in this country. Tara Golshan, Vox, "Donald Trump’s race-baiting closing argument going into Election Day, explained," 2 Nov. 2018 While there’s a subtlety to much of Mellencamp’s artwork, that’s not true of a large piece dominating one wall in the gallery. Thom Duffy, Billboard, "John Mellencamp's Art Exhibit 'Life, Death, Love and Freedom' Opens in New York," 28 Apr. 2018 Both the detailed subtleties and walloping fervor came through thrillingly in the performance. New York Times, "As the Frick Expands, New York City Music Suffers," 29 June 2018 In theaters, the uproarious space adventure could often get drowned out by laughter, but on a rewatch, the nuances and subtleties are much more apparent. 18. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, "18 thoughts I had re-watching 18 Marvel movies to get ready for 'Avengers: Infinity War'," 20 Apr. 2018 In the title role, as well as that of Georgia’s anxious alter ego Casey, Austin Thomas is able to demonstrate, with grace and subtlety, how somebody gradually gets better at something. Christopher Arnott,, "Fun-Loving, Dramatic Drag Play 'Georgia McBride' Dressed To Impress At TheaterWorks," 23 Mar. 2018 But turkeys tend to lack the subtlety of other city-dwelling animals and often destroy gardens, damage cars, chase pets, and attack people. Aditi Shrikant,, "When wild animals urbanize," 13 July 2018 These essays can, depending the subtleties of the author, read more as self-promotional than sincere. Phoebe Maltz Bovy, New Republic, "The Rise of the Privilege Epiphany," 8 Jan. 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

16 May 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

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).


a strong desire or propensity

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