subtle

[suht-l]
See more synonyms for subtle on Thesaurus.com
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 for subtle

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018


Examples from the Web for subtle

Contemporary Examples of subtle

Historical Examples of subtle

  • He had breathed into the atmosphere a subtle malaria, and George had caught the disease.

    Life in London

    Edwin Hodder

  • Then, he bethought himself of a subtle form of rebuke by emphasizing his generosity.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • The words were uttered with a subtle renunciation that was this man's religion.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • 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.


British Dictionary definitions for subtle

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 for subtle

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 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