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[suht-l-tee] /ˈsʌt l ti/
noun, plural subtleties.
the state or quality of being subtle.
delicacy or nicety of character or meaning.
acuteness or penetration of mind; delicacy of discrimination.
a fine-drawn distinction; refinement of reasoning:
the subtleties of logic.
something subtle.
History/Historical. an elaborate confection, ornate in construction and ornamentation, sometimes edible but more often made and used as a decoration for a table or buffet.
Origin of subtlety
1300-50; Middle English subtelte, sutilte < Old French sutilte < Latin subtīlitāt- (stem of subtīlitās) fineness, equivalent to subtīli(s) subtile + -tāt- -ty2
Related forms
hypersubtlety, noun
nonsubtlety, noun, plural nonsubtleties.
oversubtlety, noun, plural oversubtleties. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for subtlety
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • And undoubtedly his subtlety was to some extent a matter of make-believe.

    Old and New Masters Robert Lynd
  • Karl had not the subtlety to retort, “Ay, but does it say what we like?”

    The First Violin Jessie Fothergill
  • He lived among a people celebrated for subtlety and genius: he never laid himself open to detection.

    Four Early Pamphlets William Godwin
  • And this notion of his was not any proof of want of subtlety on his part.

    A Spirit in Prison Robert Hichens
  • For a second time the Sayotkatta yielded to the subtlety of these unanswerable arguments.

    The Smuggler Chief Gustave Aimard
British Dictionary definitions for subtlety


noun (pl) -ties
the state or quality of being subtle; delicacy
a fine distinction or the ability to make such a distinction
something subtle
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
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Word Origin and History for subtlety

mid-14c., from Old French soutilte, from Latin subtilitatem (nominative subtilitas), noun of quality from subtilis (see subtle).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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