AskDefine | Define subtle

Dictionary Definition

subtle adj
1 be difficult to detect or grasp by the mind; "his whole attitude had undergone a subtle change"; "a subtle difference"; "that elusive thing the soul" [syn: elusive]
2 faint and difficult to analyze; "subtle aromas"
3 able to make fine distinctions; "a subtle mind"
4 working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way; "glaucoma is an insidious disease"; "a subtle poison" [syn: insidious, pernicious]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


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


  • , /ˈsʌt(ə)l/, /"sVt(@)l/
  • Rhymes: -ʌtəl


  1. Hard to grasp; not obvious or easily understood; barely noticeable.
    The difference is subtle, but you can hear it if you listen carefully.
  2. In the context of "of a thing": Cleverly contrived.
  3. In the context of "of a person or animal": Cunning, skillful.
  4. insidious


hard to grasp
cleverly contrived
cunning, skillful


Extensive Definition

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Byzantine, Machiavellian, Machiavellic, abstruse, accurate, acute, adulterated, air-built, airy, analytic, analytical, appreciative, arcane, arch, artful, astute, attentive, attenuate, attenuated, balled up, boyish, cagey, calculating, canny, casuistic, chimerical, civilized, clever, close, cloud-built, complex, complicated, concealed, confounded, confused, conscientious, constant, convoluted, correct, crabbed, crafty, creamy, critical, cultivated, cultured, cunning, cut, cute, daedal, dainty, deceitful, deceptive, deep, deep-laid, delicate, demanding, designing, detailed, devious, dexterous, diaphanous, differential, dilute, diluted, diplomatic, direct, discriminate, discriminating, discriminative, distinctive, distinguishing, dreamlike, eggshell, elaborate, elegant, elusive, embrangled, entangled, ethereal, even, exact, exacting, exigent, express, exquisite, faint, faithful, fanciful, fastidious, fatuitous, fatuous, feline, fine, fine-drawn, finespun, finical, finicking, finicky, flat, flimsy, fouled up, foxy, frail, fussy, gaseous, gauzy, girlish, gloss, gossamer, gossamery, graceful, gracile, gracious, guileful, hairline, hairsplitting, hidden, illusory, imaginary, implicated, inerrable, inerrant, infallible, ingenious, insidious, insubstantial, intricate, inventive, involuted, involved, iridescent, knotted, knowing, labyrinthian, labyrinthine, lacy, light, loused up, many-faceted, mathematical, matted, mazy, meandering, mellow, messed up, meticulous, micrometrically precise, microscopic, minute, misty, mixed up, mother-of-pearl, mucked up, multifarious, nacreous, narrow, nebulous, nice, obscure, opalescent, pale, papery, particular, pastel, patinaed, pawky, pearly, perplexed, phantomlike, pinpoint, polished, politic, precise, precisianistic, precisionistic, profound, punctilious, punctual, quiet, ramified, rare, rarefied, ratiocinative, ready, recondite, refined, religious, religiously exact, remote, resourceful, rigid, rigorous, roundabout, sad, scheming, scientific, scientifically exact, screwed up, scrupulous, scrutinizing, selective, semigloss, sensitive, serpentine, severe, shadowy, sharp, shifty, shrewd, simple, skillful, slender, slenderish, slick, slight, slight-made, slim, slimmish, slimy, slinky, slippery, sly, small, smarmy, smart, smooth, snaky, snarled, sneaky, sober, soft, soft-colored, soft-hued, softened, somber, sophistical, sophisticated, spirituous, square, stealthy, strategic, strict, subdued, subtile, supple, svelte, sweet, sylphlike, tactful, tactical, tangled, tangly, tender, tenuous, thin, thin-bodied, thin-set, thin-spun, thinned, thinned-out, thinnish, threadlike, trickish, tricksy, tricky, twisted, uncompact, uncompressed, underhanded, undeviating, unerring, unreal, unsubstantial, vague, vaporous, veiled, vulpine, wary, wasp-waisted, watered, watered-down, watery, weak, willowy, wily, windy, wiredrawn, wispy
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