- thin, tenuous, or rarefied, as a fluid or an odor.
- fine or delicate in meaning or intent; difficult to perceive or understand: subtle irony.
- delicate or faint and mysterious: a subtle smile.
- requiring mental acuteness, penetration, or discernment: a subtle philosophy.
- characterized by mental acuteness or penetration: a subtle understanding.
- cunning, wily, or crafty: a subtle liar.
- insidious in operation: subtle poison.
- skillful, clever, or ingenious: a subtle painter.
Origin of subtle
SynonymsSee more synonyms on Thesaurus.com
Examples from the Web for subtler
The subtler Sofia Coppola bag has been a more recent success story.Marc Jacobs Leaves Louis Vuitton After 16 Years
October 2, 2013
A subtler foreign policy is harder to conduct in public, especially in our time.On Syria, the Public, Process, and Results
September 17, 2013
It falls to subtler, simpler technologies to recruit the mass populace into the war against global warming.Stop-Start Engines Lead to Big Gains in Auto Efficiency
July 4, 2013
But there are subtler ways of playing on the same prejudices and fears.Yes, Democrats Can Be Racist
May 6, 2013
Henry James, unsurprisingly, was playing a subtler, but still heavily determined game.What’s in a Name? Writers and Their Anthroponymy
February 28, 2013
Or was it some subtler echo of Lady St. Craye's personality that clung there?The Incomplete Amorist
Subtler than sound, and felt, unheard, in the depth of the spirit.Poems
William D. Howells
But by that light I have been able to see, where subtler minds have been blind.
You know that what you have told only jars the subtler fancies in one, after all.A Pair of Blue Eyes
Your house-agent is an ill judge of the subtler forms of humour.
- not immediately obvious or comprehensible
- difficult to detect or analyse, often through being delicate or highly refineda subtle scent
- showing or making or capable of showing or making fine distinctions of meaning
- marked by or requiring mental acuteness or ingenuity; discriminating
- delicate or fainta subtle shade
- cunning or wilya subtle rogue
- operating or executed in secreta subtle intrigue
Word Origin and History for subtler
c.1300, sutel, soutil, in reference to things, "of thin consistency;" in reference to craftsmen, "skilled, clever," from Old French soutil, from Latin subtilis "fine, thin, delicate, finely woven," from sub "under" (see sub-) + -tilis, from tela "web" and texere "to weave" (see texture). The spelling with -b- reflects confusion with subtile. Most non-material senses were present by late 14c.