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 subtly

Contemporary Examples of subtly

Historical Examples of subtly

  • Mary subtly evaded the question, while seeming to give unqualified assent.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • Beardsley really didn't mind; they just couldn't know how subtly he worked into his themes!

  • "Let us speak, then, of their offence alone," persisted Francesco subtly.

    Love-at-Arms

    Raphael Sabatini

  • This earth is made too subtly, of too multiple warp and woof, for prophecy.

    Another Sheaf

    John Galsworthy

  • I cannot express in words how subtly and marvellously it is designed.

    Italy, the Magic Land

    Lilian Whiting


British Dictionary definitions for subtly

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 subtly

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