noun, plural sub·tle·ties.

the state or quality of being subtle.
delicacy or nicety of character or meaning.
acuteness or penetration of mind; delicacy of discrimination.
a fine-drawn distinction; refinement of reasoning: the subtleties of logic.
something subtle.
History/Historical. an elaborate confection, ornate in construction and ornamentation, sometimes edible but more often made and used as a decoration for a table or buffet.

Origin of subtlety

1300–50; Middle English subtelte, sutilte < Old French sutilte < Latin subtīlitāt- (stem of subtīlitās) fineness, equivalent to subtīli(s) subtile + -tāt- -ty2
Related formshy·per·sub·tle·ty, nounnon·sub·tle·ty, noun, plural non·sub·tle·ties.o·ver·sub·tle·ty, noun, plural o·ver·sub·tle·ties. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for subtlety

nuance, intricacy, elegance, innuendo, distinction

Examples from the Web for subtlety

Contemporary Examples of subtlety

Historical Examples of subtlety

  • However, if the man worked with subtlety, the sea likewise worked with subtlety.

  • They bestowed upon him every beauty of person and every subtlety of wit.


    William Godwin

  • If the emperor say, 'You are speaking of Macedonius; I see your subtlety.

    The Formation of Christendom, Volume VI

    Thomas W. (Thomas William) Allies

  • Karl had not the subtlety to retort, “Ay, but does it say what we like?”

    The First Violin

    Jessie Fothergill

  • And this notion of his was not any proof of want of subtlety on his part.

    A Spirit in Prison

    Robert Hichens

British Dictionary definitions for subtlety


noun plural -ties

the state or quality of being subtle; delicacy
a fine distinction or the ability to make such a distinction
something subtle
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 subtlety

mid-14c., from Old French soutilte, from Latin subtilitatem (nominative subtilitas), noun of quality from subtilis (see subtle).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper