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subtle

[suht-l]
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.
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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

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

Related Words

ingeniousfaintslightprofoundsophisticatedindirectexquisiteunderstatedprecisedetailedintriguingslyskillfulshrewdinsidiouscomplexattenuatedeepdiscriminatingethereal

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British Dictionary definitions for subtler

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
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Derived Formssubtleness, nounsubtly, adverb

Word Origin

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 subtler

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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper