What does subtle mean?

Definitions for subtle
ˈsʌt lsub·tle

This dictionary definitions page includes all the possible meanings, example usage and translations of the word subtle.

Princeton's WordNet

  1. elusive, subtleadjective

    difficult to detect or grasp by the mind or analyze

    "his whole attitude had undergone a subtle change"; "a subtle difference"; "that elusive thing the soul"

  2. subtleadjective

    able to make fine distinctions

    "a subtle mind"

  3. insidious, pernicious, subtleadjective

    working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way

    "glaucoma is an insidious disease"; "a subtle poison"


  1. subtleadjective

    Hard to grasp; not obvious or easily understood; barely noticeable.

    The difference is subtle, but you can hear it if you listen carefully.

  2. subtleadjective

    Cleverly contrived.

  3. subtleadjective

    Cunning, skillful.

  4. subtleadjective


  5. subtleadjective

    Tenuous; rarefied; of low density or thin consistency.

  6. Etymology: From sotil, subtil, from soutil, later subtil, subtil, from subtilis; probably, originally, “woven fine”, and from sub + tela, from texere.

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

  1. Subtleadjective

    Sly; artful; cunning.

    Some subtle headed fellow will put some quirk, or devise some evasion, whereof the rest will take hold. Edmund Spenser.

    Shall we think the subtle witted French
    Conj’rers and sorc’rers, that, afraid of him,
    By magick verse have thus contriv’d his end? William Shakespeare, H. VI.

    The serpent, subtlest beast of all the field. John Milton.

    The Arabians were men of a deep and subtle wit. Thomas Sprat.


  1. subtle

    Subtle can be described as something that is delicate, understated, or not easily noticeable. It often refers to a quality or characteristic that is not obvious or blatant, requiring careful observation or analysis to be fully understood or appreciated. Subtle can also refer to a clever or nuanced approach, strategy, or communication style that effectively conveys a message or intention without being overly direct or explicit.

Webster Dictionary

  1. Subtle

    sly in design; artful; cunning; insinuating; subtile; -- applied to persons; as, a subtle foe

  2. Subtle

    cunningly devised; crafty; treacherous; as, a subtle stratagem

  3. Subtle

    characterized by refinement and niceness in drawing distinctions; nicely discriminating; -- said of persons; as, a subtle logician; refined; tenuous; sinuous; insinuating; hence, penetrative or pervasive; -- said of the mind; its faculties, or its operations; as, a subtle intellect; a subtle imagination; a subtle process of thought; also, difficult of apprehension; elusive

  4. Subtle

    smooth and deceptive


  1. Subtle

    Subtle was an alternative hip hop sextet from Oakland, California. It consisted of Adam Drucker, Jeffrey Logan, Dax Pierson, Jordan Dalrymple, Alexander Kort, and Marty Dowers. The band was formed in 2001. While considered by the artists to be "genreless", Subtle had close ties to the hip hop and indie music scene. Although both Doseone and Jel have strong ties to the Anticon collective, Subtle was not on the Anticon label roster. Subtle was signed to Lex Records.

Chambers 20th Century Dictionary

  1. Subtle

    sut′l (B. Sub′til), adj. subtile in a figurative sense: acute, quick to discern or discriminate: insinuating, sly, artful: cunningly devised, ingenious.—ns. Subt′leness, Subt′lety, quality of being subtle: artfulness: shrewdness: extreme acuteness.—adj. Subt′le-wit′ted, sharp-witted.—adv. Subt′ly (B. Sub′tilly), ingeniously, cleverly: artfully, deceitfully. [Contr. of subtile.]

Suggested Resources

  1. subtle

    Song lyrics by subtle -- Explore a large variety of song lyrics performed by subtle on the Lyrics.com website.

British National Corpus

  1. Spoken Corpus Frequency

    Rank popularity for the word 'subtle' in Spoken Corpus Frequency: #4833

  2. Adjectives Frequency

    Rank popularity for the word 'subtle' in Adjectives Frequency: #659

Anagrams for subtle »

  1. bluest

  2. bluets

  3. bustle

  4. sublet

How to pronounce subtle?

How to say subtle in sign language?


  1. Chaldean Numerology

    The numerical value of subtle in Chaldean Numerology is: 5

  2. Pythagorean Numerology

    The numerical value of subtle in Pythagorean Numerology is: 7

Examples of subtle in a Sentence

  1. Francis Bacon:

    Histories make men wise poets, witty the mathematics, subtle natural philosophy, deep moral, grave logic and rhetoric, able to contend.

  2. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva:

    Colorblind racism is the new racial music most people dance to, the 'new racism' is subtle, institutionalized and seemingly nonracial.

  3. Isaac Asimov:

    A subtle thought that is in error may yet give rise to fruitful inquiry that can establish truths of great value.

  4. Glen Coppersmith:

    Some of these differences are obvious and make immediate sense, like depressed people talk about negative emotions more, some differences are more subtle, like depressed people use ‘I’ more than their community control counterparts.

  5. Louis Pasteur:

    Science advances through tentative answers to a series of more and more subtle questions which reach deeper and deeper into the essence of natural phenomena.

Popularity rank by frequency of use


Translations for subtle

From our Multilingual Translation Dictionary

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"subtle." Definitions.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2023. Web. 25 Sep. 2023. <https://www.definitions.net/definition/subtle>.

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