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  1. fine in texture, quality, construction, etc.: a delicate lace collar.
  2. fragile; easily damaged; frail: delicate porcelain; a delicate child.
  3. so fine as to be scarcely perceptible; subtle: a delicate flavor.
  4. soft or faint, as color: a delicate shade of pink.
  5. fine or precise in action or execution; capable of responding to the slightest influence: a delicate instrument.
  6. requiring great care, caution, or tact: a delicate international situation.
  7. distinguishing subtle differences: a delicate eye; a delicate sense of smell.
  8. exquisite or refined in perception or feeling; sensitive.
  9. regardful of what is becoming, proper, etc.: a delicate sense of propriety.
  10. mindful of or sensitive to the feelings of others: a delicate refusal.
  11. dainty or choice, as food: delicate tidbits.
  12. primly fastidious; squeamish: not a movie for the delicate viewer.
  13. Obsolete. sensuous; voluptuous.
  1. Archaic. a choice food; delicacy.
  2. Obsolete. a source of pleasure; luxury.

Origin of delicate

1325–75; Middle English delicat < Latin dēlicātus delightful, dainty; akin to delicious
Related formsdel·i·cate·ly, adverbdel·i·cate·ness, nounhy·per·del·i·cate, adjectivehy·per·del·i·cate·ly, adverbhy·per·del·i·cate·ness, nounnon·del·i·cate, adjectivenon·del·i·cate·ly, adverbnon·del·i·cate·ness, nounqua·si-del·i·cate, adjectivequa·si-del·i·cate·ly, adverbsu·per·del·i·cate, adjectivesu·per·del·i·cate·ly, adverbsu·per·del·i·cate·ness, noun

Synonyms for delicate

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Synonym study

1. Delicate, dainty, exquisite imply beauty such as belongs to rich surroundings or which needs careful treatment. Delicate, used of an object, suggests fragility, small size, and often very fine workmanship: a delicate piece of carving. Dainty, in concrete references, suggests a smallness, gracefulness, and beauty that forbid rough handling: a dainty handkerchief; of persons, it refers to fastidious sensibilities: dainty in eating habits. Exquisite suggests an outstanding beauty and elegance, or a discriminating sensitivity and ability to perceive fine distinctions: an exquisite sense of humor.

Antonyms for delicate

1, 2. coarse. 3. hard, crude. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for delicate

Contemporary Examples of delicate

Historical Examples of delicate

British Dictionary definitions for delicate


  1. exquisite, fine, or subtle in quality, character, construction, etc
  2. having a soft or fragile beauty
  3. (of colour, tone, taste, etc) pleasantly subtle, soft, or faint
  4. easily damaged or injured; lacking robustness, esp in health; fragile
  5. precise, skilled, or sensitive in action or operationa delicate mechanism
  6. requiring tact and diplomacy
  7. sensitive in feeling or manner; showing regard for the feelings of others
  8. excessively refined; squeamish
  1. archaic a delicacy; dainty
Derived Formsdelicately, adverbdelicateness, noun

Word Origin for delicate

C14: from Latin dēlicātus affording pleasure, from dēliciae (pl) delight, pleasure; see delicious
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 delicate

late 14c., "self-indulgent, loving ease; delightful; sensitive, easily hurt; feeble," from Latin delicatus "alluring, delightful, dainty," also "addicted to pleasure, luxurious, effeminate;" of uncertain origin; related by folk etymology (and perhaps genuinely) to deliciae "a pet," and delicere "to allure, entice" (see delicious). Meaning "easily broken" is recorded from 1560s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper