From Biology-Online Dictionary | Biology-Online Dictionary


1. Thin; not dense or gross; rare; as, subtile air; subtile vapor; a subtile medium.

2. Delicately constituted or constructed; nice; fine; delicate; tenuous; finely woven. A sotil [subtile] twine's thread. More subtile web Arachne can not spin. (Spenser) I do distinguish plain Each subtile line of her immortal face. (Sir J. Davies)

3. Acute; piercing; searching. The slow disease and subtile pain. (prior)

5. Characterised by nicety of discrimination; discerning; delicate; refined; subtle. [In this sense now commonly written subtle] The genius of the spanish people is exquisitely subtile, without being at all acute; hence there is so much humor and so little wit in their literature. The genius of the Italians, on the contrary, is acute, profound, and sensual, but not subtile; hence what they think to be humorous, is merely witty. (Coleridge) The subtile influence of an intellect like Emerson's. (Hawthorne)

5. Sly; artful; cunning; crafty; subtle; as, a subtile person; a subtile adversary; a subtile scheme. [In this sense now commonly written subtle.

Synonym: Subtile, acute.

In acute the image is that of a needle's point; in subtile that of a thread spun out to fineness. The acute intellect pierces to its aim; the subtile (or subtle) intellect winds its way through obstacles. Subtilely, Subtileness.

Origin: L. Subtilis. See Subtile.