Definition of subtly in English:



  • 1In a manner that is so delicate or precise as to be difficult to analyse or describe.

    ‘the script subtly shifts in tone from comedy to tragedy’
    ‘the mood and pacing subtly convey a creeping paranoia’
    • ‘On the opposite wall are four more subtly disturbing photographs.’
    • ‘His pictures of people also subtly upset our expectations.’
    • ‘The sacramental ritual performed by the Corpus Domini priest differs subtly from that delivered by Christ in the Corpus Domini Altarpiece.’
    • ‘The emotional tone of the two images is subtly different.’
    • ‘The artist's best-known works, big color photographs of wealthy WASPs at home, show us characters both instantly recognizable and subtly surprising.’
    1. 1.1In a delicately complex and understated way.
      ‘a subtly flavoured dessert’
      ‘subtly coloured fabrics’
      • ‘The marks of the plywood formwork on the concrete surface subtly evoke the presence of wood.’
      • ‘The double-skinned glass curtain wall reflects the trees and changing light to become a subtly mutable (and deceptively insubstantial) external membrane.’
      • ‘Each canvas features the richly textured and subtly modulated expanses of color for which he is well known.’
      • ‘The light puff-pastry melts away to release the flavours of subtly seasoned potatoes or cauliflower.’
      • ‘The dish featured succulent chicken chunks in a thick, creamy sauce subtly flavoured with leek and tarragon.’
  • 2In a clever and indirect way, in order to achieve something.

    ‘he would prattle on about something else for a while before subtly raising the question again’
    ‘the report subtly shifts blames on to the complainants’
    • ‘His book began subtly to reshape the problematic reputation of the artist.’
    • ‘The writer uses the highway near Dubai to subtly illustrate the effects of environmental damage.’
    • ‘Equipped with all the facilities required by modern travel interchanges, the hall is subtly designed to shape passenger flows.’
    • ‘Yet this beautiful show also challenges our moment in a subtly subversive way.’
    • ‘She subtly skews the story by using partisan testimony as fact.’