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subtle

[suht-l] /ˈsʌt l/
adjective, subtler, subtlest.
1.
thin, tenuous, or rarefied, as a fluid or an odor.
2.
fine or delicate in meaning or intent; difficult to perceive or understand:
subtle irony.
3.
delicate or faint and mysterious:
a subtle smile.
4.
requiring mental acuteness, penetration, or discernment:
a subtle philosophy.
5.
characterized by mental acuteness or penetration:
a subtle understanding.
6.
cunning, wily, or crafty:
a subtle liar.
7.
insidious in operation:
subtle poison.
8.
skillful, clever, or ingenious:
a subtle painter.
Origin of subtle
1250-1300
1250-1300; Middle English sotil < Old French < Latin subtīlis subtile (b of modern spelling < L)
Related forms
subtleness, noun
subtly, adverb
hypersubtle, adjective
hypersubtleness, noun
nonsubtle, adjective
nonsubtleness, noun
nonsubtly, adverb
oversubtle, adjective
oversubtly, adverb
pseudosubtle, adjective
pseudosubtly, adverb
unsubtle, adjective
unsubtleness, noun
unsubtly, adverb
Synonyms
6. sly, tricky, foxy, slick.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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Examples from the Web for subtler
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The subtler woman-look, the faint suggestion of brooding in the eyes, had matured the face and lent it meaning.

    The Open Question Elizabeth Robins
  • Your house-agent is an ill judge of the subtler forms of humour.

  • That same sun which warmed the water and liberated the vapour, exerts a subtler power on the nutriment of the tree.

  • Yet fiction writing is but a subtler form of acting in words.

    Child and Country Will Levington Comfort
  • She had divined nothing, imagined nothing, she had been both simpler and subtler than he knew.

British Dictionary definitions for subtler

subtle

/ˈsʌtəl/
adjective
1.
not immediately obvious or comprehensible
2.
difficult to detect or analyse, often through being delicate or highly refined: a subtle scent
3.
showing or making or capable of showing or making fine distinctions of meaning
4.
marked by or requiring mental acuteness or ingenuity; discriminating
5.
delicate or faint: a subtle shade
6.
cunning or wily: a subtle rogue
7.
operating or executed in secret: a subtle intrigue
Derived Forms
subtleness, noun
subtly, adverb
Word Origin
C14: from Old French soutil, from Latin subtīlis finely woven
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for subtler

subtle

adj.

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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