Two meanings of the word subtle given by worknik.com

adj. Difficult to understand; abstruse: an argument whose subtle point was lost on her opponent.

adj. Able to make fine distinctions: a subtle mind.

I am confused how to use this word. For me these two meanings look like just opposite.

If a person is having difficulty in understanding, then he wouldn't be able to make fine distinction


If someone is facing difficulty in making fine distinction, it means he has not understood it properly.

Please explain how to use this word with example if possible.

  • work-a-who? Why don't you use a normal dictionary ...
    – Kaz
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 15:31
  • A word can have more than one meaning. Sometimes the difference between those meanings are subtle, sometimes blatant. The two definitions you give in this question are from The American Heritage Dictionary, meaning 1b and 2. So, they are actually different for not being a definition for the same sense.
    – Em1
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 17:54

1 Answer 1


Subtle comes from the French subtil, from latin subtilis meaning delicate, thin, that can penetrate (so thin it is).
Something can be difficult to understand because its meaning is thin, imperceptible. Someone who is subtle, has such a subtle penetrating mind that he can understand difficult things.

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