- 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 subtly
He subtly gestured toward the direction of the camera pointed at their house.The Life and Hard Times Of The Family A Cuban Defector Left Behind
December 19, 2014
If there were ever a Chinese company that could subtly suggest a few changes in Chinese policy, Alibaba would be it.Alibaba’s Dark Side: Censoring Customers
November 18, 2014
But with the 2016 presidential season on the horizon, the Texas firebrand has subtly changed his tune over the last six months.Ted Cruz Quits Screwing With the GOP
October 16, 2014
In an effort to cope with the implications of this question, Americans have subtly but sweepingly shifted their ideals.How Young People Are Destroying Liberty
October 11, 2014
Once a day, she says, a shuttle bus took them into town, dropping them not so subtly near the train station.Italy's Latest Export Is Refugees, and the Rest of Europe Is Not Happy
Barbie Latza Nadeau
August 26, 2014
Mary subtly evaded the question, while seeming to give unqualified assent.Within the Law
Beardsley really didn't mind; they just couldn't know how subtly he worked into his themes!We're Friends, Now
"Let us speak, then, of their offence alone," persisted Francesco subtly.Love-at-Arms
This earth is made too subtly, of too multiple warp and woof, for prophecy.Another Sheaf
I cannot express in words how subtly and marvellously it is designed.Italy, the Magic Land
- 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 subtly
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.