What does subtle mean?

Definitions for subtle
ˈsʌt lsub·tle

Here are all the possible meanings 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.

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. Patrick Ta:

    When you’re choosing to do a pink shadow, you should choose a vibrant pink that actually shows, when you choose something too subtle, it can make your eyes look a little sick.

  2. Lori Tremmel Freeman:

    I think there are subtle shifts being made at the local level health departments to normalize the pandemic response in a way that allows them to get back to the core work of their public health departments, but those words that were used about the pandemic ending are not well circulated in the public health area right now.

  3. National Science Foundation:

    Black holes have sparked imaginations for decades, they have exotic properties and are mysterious to us. Yet with more observations like this one they are yielding their secrets. This is why NSF exists. We enable scientists and engineers to illuminate the unknown, to reveal the subtle and complex majesty of our universe.

  4. Officer Kevin Fry:

    As Mr. Chatman approaches the corner, he makes a slight turn, a subtle turn to the right with his upper body. I see in his right hand a dark gray or black object, it was a small black object, which I believed to be a handgun.

  5. Claude Arnold:

    A very common threat, the traffickers tell them if they run away, they will hurt their family, or it can be more subtle, I will tell your family that you’ve been doing this, they control them through guilt and fear.

Popularity rank by frequency of use


Translations for subtle

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