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[suht-l-tee] /ˈsʌt l ti/
noun, plural subtleties.
the state or quality of being subtle.
delicacy or nicety of character or meaning.
acuteness or penetration of mind; delicacy of discrimination.
a fine-drawn distinction; refinement of reasoning:
the subtleties of logic.
something subtle.
History/Historical. an elaborate confection, ornate in construction and ornamentation, sometimes edible but more often made and used as a decoration for a table or buffet.
Origin of subtlety
1300-50; Middle English subtelte, sutilte < Old French sutilte < Latin subtīlitāt- (stem of subtīlitās) fineness, equivalent to subtīli(s) subtile + -tāt- -ty2
Related forms
hypersubtlety, noun
nonsubtlety, noun, plural nonsubtleties.
oversubtlety, noun, plural oversubtleties. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for subtlety
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • However, if the man worked with subtlety, the sea likewise worked with subtlety.

    The Cruise of the Dry Dock T. S. Stribling
  • They bestowed upon him every beauty of person and every subtlety of wit.

    Imogen William Godwin
  • If the emperor say, 'You are speaking of Macedonius; I see your subtlety.

    The Formation of Christendom, Volume VI

    Thomas W. (Thomas William) Allies
  • Karl had not the subtlety to retort, “Ay, but does it say what we like?”

    The First Violin Jessie Fothergill
  • And this notion of his was not any proof of want of subtlety on his part.

    A Spirit in Prison Robert Hichens
British Dictionary definitions for subtlety


noun (pl) -ties
the state or quality of being subtle; delicacy
a fine distinction or the ability to make such a distinction
something subtle
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 subtlety

mid-14c., from Old French soutilte, from Latin subtilitatem (nominative subtilitas), noun of quality from subtilis (see subtle).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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