- 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 subtlest
This penetrating style of portraiture works on the subtlest of emotional responses as well.Into the Woods With Virginia Woolf: Emily Perkins and ‘The Forrests’
September 19, 2012
It would have been the subtlest flattery, had he not been the most honest and straightforward of men.Whittier-land
Samuel T. Pickard
She did not know that there are times when the emotions are more potent than the subtlest wines.Emmy Lou
George Madden Martin
But certain souls are proof against the subtlest forms of hypnotism.Gossamer
George A. Birmingham
He may be in an agony of fear, but only by the subtlest changes could it be detected.The Great White Tribe in Filipinia
Paul T. Gilbert
The subtlest and most potent half of the spell is hidden; and we guess it only little by little.Laurus Nobilis
- 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 subtlest
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.