- The definition of something that is subtle is an indirect or very small distinction when comparing two things or ideas.
An example of subtle is adding a new spice to a recipe resulting in a very small change in the dish’s flavor.
- thin; rare; tenuous; not dense or heavy: a subtle gas
- capable of making or noticing fine distinctions in meaning, etc.: a subtle thinker
- marked by or requiring mental keenness: subtle reasoning
- delicately skillful or clever; deft or ingenious: a subtle filigree
- not open or direct; crafty; sly
- delicately suggestive; not grossly obvious: a subtle hint
- working insidiously; not easily detected: a subtle poison
Origin: Middle English sotil from Old French soutil from Classical Latin subtilis, fine, thin, precise, origin, originally , closely woven from sub- (see sub-) plush tela, web from an unverified form texla from texere, to weave: see technic
Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
adjective sub·tler, sub·tlest
- a. So slight as to be difficult to detect or describe; elusive: a subtle smile.b. Difficult to understand; abstruse: an argument whose subtle point was lost on her opponent.
- Able to make fine distinctions: a subtle mind.
- a. Characterized by skill or ingenuity; clever.b. Crafty or sly; devious.c. Operating in a hidden, usually injurious way; insidious: a subtle poison.
Origin: Middle English sotil, from Old French, from Latin subtīlis; see teks- in Indo-European roots.
- subˈtle·ness noun
- subˈtly adverb