subtly

The adverb subtly describes something that's done in a delicate or understated way. You could subtly suggest to your best friend that a breath mint might taste good, rather than telling her straight out that she's got terrible breath.

When you do something subtly, you do it quietly and indirectly — like subtly criticizing your mom's choice of beachwear. If you smile subtly, it's a small, mysterious, Mona Lisa-type smile rather than a wide, open one. There are two tricks to the word subtly: first, when you add the ly to the word subtle, the e gets dropped. Second, don't confuse subtly with subtlety, a noun meaning "the state of being subtle."

Definitions of subtly
  1. adverb
    in a subtle manner
    “late nineteenth-century French opera at its most beautiful, subtly romantic with a twilight melancholy”
Word Family
EDITOR’S CHOICE

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by Vocabulary.com’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.

SAT/PSAT

$29.95
  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week

TOEFL

$29.95
  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week

ACT

$29.95
  • Number of words: 700+
  • Duration: 10 weeks
  • Time: 1 hour / week