adjective, sub·tler, sub·tlest.
- thin, tenuous, or rarefied, as a fluid or an odor.
- fine or delicate in meaning or intent; difficult to perceive or understand: subtle irony.
- delicate or faint and mysterious: a subtle smile.
- requiring mental acuteness, penetration, or discernment: a subtle philosophy.
- characterized by mental acuteness or penetration: a subtle understanding.
- cunning, wily, or crafty: a subtle liar.
- insidious in operation: subtle poison.
- skillful, clever, or ingenious: a subtle painter.
- not immediately obvious or comprehensible
- difficult to detect or analyse, often through being delicate or highly refineda subtle scent
- showing or making or capable of showing or making fine distinctions of meaning
- marked by or requiring mental acuteness or ingenuity; discriminating
- delicate or fainta subtle shade
- cunning or wilya subtle rogue
- operating or executed in secreta subtle intrigue
adj.c.1300, sutel, soutil, in reference to things, “of thin consistency;” in reference to craftsmen, “skilled, clever,” from Old French soutil, from Latin subtilis “fine, thin, delicate, finely woven,” from sub “under” (see sub-) + -tilis, from tela “web” and texere “to weave” (see texture). The spelling with -b- reflects confusion with subtile. Most non-material senses were present by late 14c.