- thin, tenuous, or rarefied, as a fluid or an odor.
- fine or delicate in meaning or intent; difficult to perceive or understand: subtle irony.
- delicate or faint and mysterious: a subtle smile.
- requiring mental acuteness, penetration, or discernment: a subtle philosophy.
- characterized by mental acuteness or penetration: a subtle understanding.
- cunning, wily, or crafty: a subtle liar.
- insidious in operation: subtle poison.
- skillful, clever, or ingenious: a subtle painter.
Origin of subtle
SynonymsSee more synonyms for subtle on Thesaurus.com
Examples from the Web for subtle
Hammerstein continued his subtle quest for racial equanimity in Oklahoma!When Broadway Musicals Were Dark And Subversive
December 16, 2014
In recent days, there has been a subtle feeling of defeat permeating through the camp.The Monuments Men of Occupy Hong Kong
December 4, 2014
Vreeland believes that in the end, his grandmother put her subtle seal of approval on his lifestyle.From Fashion Player to Photographer Monk
December 3, 2014
Light amber in color with a subtle sour finish, Fula is one of Casa Bruja's best sellers.House of the Witch: The Renegade Craft Brewers of Panama
November 30, 2014
For those who have a problem with that, she offered a charming, subtle middle finger.Jeopardy! Champion Julia Collins’s Brain Feels Like Mush
November 20, 2014
He had breathed into the atmosphere a subtle malaria, and George had caught the disease.Life in London
Then, he bethought himself of a subtle form of rebuke by emphasizing his generosity.
The words were uttered with a subtle renunciation that was this man's religion.
Joe was not subtle, not even clever; but he was a lover, and he knew the ways of love.K
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Though I felt a subtle and wondrous change, I could not trace or track the miracle.The Bacillus of Beauty
- not immediately obvious or comprehensible
- difficult to detect or analyse, often through being delicate or highly refineda subtle scent
- showing or making or capable of showing or making fine distinctions of meaning
- marked by or requiring mental acuteness or ingenuity; discriminating
- delicate or fainta subtle shade
- cunning or wilya subtle rogue
- operating or executed in secreta subtle intrigue
Word Origin and History for subtle
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.