View synonyms for subtle


[ suht-l ]


, 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.

    Synonyms: slick, foxy, tricky, sly

  7. insidious in operation:

    subtle poison.

  8. skillful, clever, or ingenious:

    a subtle painter.


/ ˈsʌtəl /


  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

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Derived Forms

  • ˈsubtleness, noun
  • ˈsubtly, adverb

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Other Words From

  • sub·tle·ness noun
  • sub·tly adverb
  • hy·per·sub·tle adjective
  • hy·per·sub·tle·ness noun
  • non·sub·tle adjective
  • non·sub·tle·ness noun
  • o·ver·sub·tle adjective
  • pseu·do·sub·tle adjective
  • un·sub·tle adjective
  • un·sub·tle·ness noun

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Word History and Origins

Origin of subtle1

First recorded in 1250–1300; Middle English sotil, from Old French, from Latin subtīlis “subtile” (the b of modern spelling is from Latin ); subtile

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Word History and Origins

Origin of subtle1

C14: from Old French soutil, from Latin subtīlis finely woven

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Example Sentences

On a per-million basis, the United States’ position in 11th place goes to 15th — a slight but subtle improvement.

That led Connecticut’s governor to make a subtle, but crucial, change to the state’s election rules on the day before the election.

The answer is almost certainly yes, given another subtle change the company made in its amended filing today.

What’s subtle is that an equivalence between two objects should be recorded as additional data.

Insider threats, where a company’s own employee carries out a cyberattack against it, are an especially pernicious and subtle form of hacking.

Again, the difference can seem subtle and sound more like splitting hairs, but the difference is important.

At that time, pre -9/11, the links were more subtle and had to be hunted down.

Hammerstein continued his subtle quest for racial equanimity in Oklahoma!

In recent days, there has been a subtle feeling of defeat permeating through the camp.

Vreeland believes that in the end, his grandmother put her subtle seal of approval on his lifestyle.

Her voice was stern; it bore to the girl's ears a subtle, unworded repetition of the threat the Marquise had already voiced.

It was a curious moment, charged with a subtle perplexity of emotions none of them quite understood.

It was the spiritual way, whose method and secret lie in that subtle paradox: Yield to conquer.

A subtle current of desire passed through her body, weakening her hold upon the brushes and making her eyes burn.

The champagne was cold, and its subtle fumes played fantastic tricks with Edna's memory that night.