- 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 subtleness
The charm of woman, too, lies partly in her subtleness in matters of love.A Pair of Blue Eyes
He only knew the ethics of the deed was shaded with the subtleness of villainy.The Blind Spot
He speaks, as well he might, of the inconstancy and subtleness of the people with whom we deal.The Mystery of Mary Stuart
It nettled him to be put on the defensive, his subtleness openly contemned.Thirty
Howard Vincent O'Brien
He met the glance with a slow grin which had in it a quality of that subtleness she had noticed in him before.'Drag' Harlan
Charles Alden Seltzer
- 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 subtleness
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.