Essential Meaning of subtle
1 : hard to notice or see : not obvious a subtle difference in meaning between the words subtle changes/variations See More Examplesthe subtlest details Racial discrimination still exists, only now it's subtler than it once was. subtle flavors
2 : clever and indirect : not showing your real purpose When it comes to giving criticism, sometimes it's best to take a subtle approach. He didn't seem to understand my subtle hints. It was her subtle way of telling me to mind my own business.
3 : having or showing skill at recognizing and understanding things that are not obvious : perceptive She has a subtle mind. a subtle analysis
Full Definition of subtle
1a : delicate, elusive a subtle fragrance His eyes had a peculiar, subtle ray in them—not a gleam.— Theodore Dreiser The peppers also have a pleasant hint of sweetness, which gives dishes featuring them a subtle richness.— Kim Marcus … flowering kale is the chic caterer's dream, its subtle hues and fluffy forms ideal for filling out table displays …— Elizabeth Schneider
b : difficult to understand or perceive : obscure sense 1c a subtle truth a subtle change subtle differences in sound The drafters of the bill had made a subtle but important error …— Jonathan Mahler Unlike wolves, who seem in some subtle way to choose their prey for pursuit, cougars wait in hiding to make a short rush at any animal that happens by.— Chris Bolgiano Many grammarians have made subtle distinctions between these two words …— Charles Einstein
c : clever and indirect : disguised in purpose She turned to me and began asking questions, ignoring my subtle hints that I was busy.— Clay Smith The negative labels [given to young people] are not-so-subtle propaganda.— David Lipsky et al.
2 : having or involving keen perception or insight a subtle scholar the writer's subtle ear for dialogue a subtle understanding of human nature The success of many of the new vegetarian dishes depends on the heightened culinary intelligence, subtle sense of taste, and well-honed cooking skills that the current generation of hobby chefs has developed over the past decade.— Jinx Morgan
3a : highly skillful : expert a subtle craftsman The discoveries do not mean that hackers have a free ride into a Web developer's system … . Even in the case of the most serious flaw, it would take a subtle hacker to exploit it …— Jeremy Carl
5 : operating insidiously subtle poisons Ah, shallow as it is, yet, how subtle a thing is suspicion, which at times can invade the humanest of hearts and wisest of heads.— Herman Melville
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