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subtle

[suht-l]
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adjective, sub·tler, sub·tlest.
  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; Middle English sotil < Old French < Latin subtīlis subtile (b of modern spelling < L)
Related formssub·tle·ness, nounsub·tly, adverbhy·per·sub·tle, adjectivehy·per·sub·tle·ness, nounnon·sub·tle, adjectivenon·sub·tle·ness, nounnon·sub·t·ly, adverbo·ver·sub·tle, adjectiveo·ver·sub·tly, adverbpseu·do·sub·tle, adjectivepseu·do·sub·t·ly, adverbun·sub·tle, adjectiveun·sub·tle·ness, nounun·sub·t·ly, adverb

Synonyms

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6. sly, tricky, foxy, slick.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for subtlest

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • It would have been the subtlest flattery, had he not been the most honest and straightforward of men.

    Whittier-land

    Samuel T. Pickard

  • She did not know that there are times when the emotions are more potent than the subtlest wines.

    Emmy Lou

    George Madden Martin

  • But certain souls are proof against the subtlest forms of hypnotism.

    Gossamer

    George A. Birmingham

  • He may be in an agony of fear, but only by the subtlest changes could it be detected.

  • The subtlest and most potent half of the spell is hidden; and we guess it only little by little.

    Laurus Nobilis

    Vernon Lee


British Dictionary definitions for subtlest

subtle

adjective
  1. not immediately obvious or comprehensible
  2. difficult to detect or analyse, often through being delicate or highly refineda 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 fainta subtle shade
  6. cunning or wilya subtle rogue
  7. operating or executed in secreta subtle intrigue
Derived Formssubtleness, nounsubtly, 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

Word Origin and History for subtlest

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