Definition of delicate in US English:



  • 1Very fine in texture or structure; of intricate workmanship or quality.

    ‘a spider's web, strong yet delicate’
    • ‘A delicate white lace shawl rests around her shoulders, draping down the length of her body.’
    • ‘The timbre and quality of its resonance had a lingering delicate quality, which communicated nuances of infinite variety.’
    • ‘Many of his breads are given 24 to 48 hours to rise on their own, developing precious flavors and delicate textures.’
    • ‘When at the click of a button you have the world on your screen, why bother debating the intricate and delicate fabrics our lives?’
    • ‘Forget all that nonsense about looking like an orange and think of your skin as the finest, most delicate fabric that you've got to wear for the rest of your life.’
    • ‘In lingerie, this is expressed by delicate shapes in diaphanous fabrics which flutter around the body.’
    • ‘The bride looked stunning in an ivory and gold raw silk dress of Irish design and carried a bouquet of delicate cream roses.’
    • ‘Their trunks, though smaller, had delicate and fine traceries of bark, showing an age far beyond their size.’
    • ‘We worked in poor light, but were fascinated with the intricate pattern of the delicate growth.’
    • ‘The crinkles in the gold leaf highlight the delicate texture of lace, the mottled surface of a pine plank table, or the peeling walls.’
    • ‘Where the inner part is smaller, the meshwork structure is more delicate and is not interwoven tightly enough to convey the spiral nature of its structure.’
    • ‘When the characters do not click, the delicate structure of the conversation unravels.’
    • ‘The delicate intricacy of the leaves provided inspiration for motifs in decoration, appearing on tiles and wrought iron, china, glass and linen.’
    • ‘Fine, delicate black lines delineate androgynous figures, heads turned heavenward, mouths open.’
    • ‘Some of the more succulent plants supported more snails than leaves; every large leaf was eaten down to a tracery of veins as delicate as broekie lace.’
    • ‘Metallic threads usually are not suited for knit fabrics as the knit's uneven texture may break the delicate threads.’
    • ‘I think the general pattern is some kind of injury, whether that's a viral infection, a toxin, some kind of insult to very delicate structures in the brain.’
    • ‘Her delicate bone structure and elegant grace would always turn heads.’
    • ‘Smith opens this space before the viewer, as if it's at our feet; renders its old textures in delicate detail; infuses it with light.’
    • ‘Your ears are connected to your nose and then to the sinuses by narrow passageways - delicate, intricate structures with a remarkable ability to recover after an infection such as a cold.’
    fine, exquisite, intricate, dainty, airy, elegant, graceful
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    1. 1.1 (of a color or a scent) subtle and subdued.
      ‘delicate pastel shades’
      ‘a delicate fragrance’
      • ‘His interiors combine domes, columned screens, and apses with classically derived surface patterns in delicate colours.’
      • ‘Of the 25 paintings exhibited, most use delicate colors such as pastels, soft browns and soft greens.’
      • ‘It smelled wonderful - a delicate fragrance lost between the natural perfumes of the world.’
      • ‘His most characteristic works are abstracts painted in light, translucent colours, often delicate shades of blue.’
      • ‘For the little pears it's totally worth it because I don't need a whole lot and the colour is so delicate.’
      • ‘This has a pale hay colour, with a delicate, attractive nose that smells of damp elderflower and freshly peeled apple.’
      • ‘And at winter dusk, sky and snow are bathed in delicate colours which linger for hours.’
      • ‘The raspberry vodka is photosensitive so, in contrast to their other flavours, they bottle it in dark glass so it keeps its delicate colour.’
      • ‘Precision need not restrict, it can lead to delicate nuances and subtle bloom.’
      • ‘He also missed her warm body and the delicate fragrance of her perfume.’
      • ‘And finally the most delicate colour on the map is also the scarcest.’
      • ‘The brow pencil in Soft Brown is a delicate colour and blended well when it was brushed.’
      • ‘Light yellow varieties, many shades of pink and delicate pastels need full sun to bring out the colorings.’
      • ‘If you look at apparel, women are wearing more delicate colors, and pastels go along with the retro movements.’
      • ‘Its ultra-fresh, delicate fragrance draws on cardamom, citron, geranium and coriander.’
      • ‘A faint aroma of the hot earth cooled by the first rains wafted in and filled the room with its delicate fragrance.’
      • ‘The colours are dominated by delicate pastels and powdery shades of white, sand, cream and beige.’
      • ‘The blouse was a light, delicate shade of pink, with a dark flower pattern covering it.’
      • ‘The tea from Darjeeling with its characteristic delicate colour and aroma is called the ‘champagne of teas’.’
      • ‘Debussy made as much use of silence as of sound to express emotion, and in the orchestration each instrument was given a delicate colour of its own to blend into the painting.’
      subtle, soft, subdued, muted
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    2. 1.2 (of food or drink) subtly and pleasantly flavored.
      ‘a delicate cream sauce’
      • ‘Nudge into a delicate dish of taramasalata made with fish roe and strong garlic dip.’
      • ‘Villagers wear rice straw sandals, and the whole nation unwinds daily on a delicate rice wine, sake.’
      • ‘Strawberry jam and lemon curd are probably clumsy words to describe the flavours in such a delicate wine.’
      • ‘The shelves creak with bottles of exotic oils, potions and elixirs, and the minibar is crammed with delicate liqueurs and Belgian chocolates.’
      • ‘Greens, carrots, and delicate herbs grow here, protected from deluges.’
      • ‘It had a delicate tomato flavour with a touch of the sea.’
      • ‘The spotted crab, known for the colorful blue streaks on its shell, as well as its sweet and delicate meat, is famous.’
      • ‘The intense flavors of the cheese and veg overpower the delicate meat.’
      • ‘This makes the delicate Biscuit Rose de Reims the ideal dipping companion of a cup of Champagne, and the perfect biscuit to use in a charlotte, in place of the classic ladyfingers.’
      • ‘It was rich and its delicate herb flavouring worked well with the chicken.’
      • ‘A succulent dish, it was served with a delicate sauce comprising olive oil, garlic and citrus juice.’
      • ‘This luminescent Italian rose has a sweetness on the nose and delicate spice on the palate that begs for a mouthful of chilled raspberries and a touch of vanilla ice-cream.’
      • ‘The plump crustaceans were cooked only until tender, then served up in a delicate tomato, wine and feta cheese sauce.’
      • ‘A fruity, off-dry style from the southerly Pfalz region, this comparatively delicate wine has a pleasantly spicy undertone that would work brilliantly with this dish.’
      • ‘Courgettes or zucchini lightly cooked in butter are also a delicate dish.’
      • ‘We spent New Year's Eve with some friends who gave us at dinner (among much else) a gorgeous, delicate soup made from Jerusalem artichokes and cream.’
      • ‘Sauvignon blanc came from Sancerre, in France, was light and dry and tasted minerally and crisp with delicate fruit.’
      • ‘Well done toast on the nose gives way to delicate strawberry and raspberry flavours with hazelnut to finish.’
      • ‘If you describe the show as a delicate cheese souffle - you like it?’
      • ‘The delicate sauce enhances, without overwhelming, the sweet freshness that makes lobster so appealing.’
  • 2Easily broken or damaged; fragile.

    ‘delicate china’
    • ‘Then he carefully pulls the book from the shelf, cradling its delicate pages, its fragile spine in his palms with the same tenderness lavished on a newborn baby.’
    • ‘Antonio has produced ceramic containers to symbolise this, the containers are at once delicate and fragile, battered and worn, but also sturdy and durable.’
    • ‘The lungs are also delicate and easily damaged if the ventilation is too aggressive.’
    • ‘He was frightened to move unless he disturbed the stillness, unless he shattered its delicate fragility.’
    • ‘Corals and other reef organisms are extremely delicate and thus easily damaged.’
    • ‘They must ‘handle the Koran as if it were a fragile piece of delicate art.’’
    • ‘Never mind sir, the hit didn't damage any of your delicate equipment.’
    • ‘If performed incorrectly, the stress of teasing or backcombing hair can damage delicate strands.’
    • ‘Berries, for example, are very delicate and fragile.’
    • ‘The body is made up of multiple delicate tissues, the most delicate of which is the brain, and taking any drug damages the most delicate tissues first.’
    • ‘Most of the works were done on silk or rice paper, both very fragile and delicate materials.’
    • ‘Use a soft sponge, cotton cloth or cotton balls and moisturizing cream to avoid damaging the delicate tissue around your eyes.’
    • ‘Wire frame glasses look great with any outfit, the only disadvantage is that they may be a little more fragile and delicate than plastic glasses.’
    • ‘They were sometimes so small they could fit in an adults palm, their skin was always delicate, their lungs fragile.’
    • ‘Whatever you do avoid touching the gills as they are very delicate organs that are easily damaged.’
    • ‘Luckily, the bull also turned right towards the furniture section rather than the more delicate china and porcelain.’
    • ‘Chemicals from tobacco smoke get into your bloodstream and can damage the delicate blood vessels inside your eye.’
    • ‘It's not quite the done thing here to rip it open on the spot, but it turned out to be this incredibly refined and delicate china tea-pot.’
    • ‘The best ceramic artworks are delicate, but not fragile, and utilitarian, but not dull.’
    • ‘Mouth injuries, such as biting the inside of your lip or even brushing too hard and damaging the delicate lining inside your mouth, also seem to bring on canker sores.’
    fragile, breakable, easily broken, easily damaged, frail, frangible
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    1. 2.1 (of a person, animal, or plant) susceptible to illness or adverse conditions.
      ‘his delicate health’
      • ‘Of delicate health, he was constantly ill and in pain in the last ten years of his life.’
      • ‘So forget the scary stories about temperamental, delicate plants.’
      • ‘My Mama is expecting a baby very shortly and she is in delicate health.’
      • ‘Mary and her girls were aware of her distraction, and seemed to think it might be the result of delicate health, for they took to often encouraging her outdoors to get fresh air.’
      • ‘He had always been in delicate health, suffering even in his youth from migraine…’
      • ‘The plants are incredibly delicate and of great botanical value, which explains why the house isn't normally open for the public to view.’
      • ‘This adventure proved too much for my delicate health, and I soon developed a severe cold.’
      • ‘The emerging plants are delicate, so continuous moisture is essential.’
      • ‘Plants of a seemingly delicate nature are almost overpowered by immense tropical-looking foliage.’
      • ‘He was delicate in health and of a nervous disposition, but this is hardly apparent from his work, which uses colour in a bold, unnaturalistic manner echoing the Fauves.’
      • ‘The Arctic's delicate tundra plants support Large populations of animals such as caribou and provide nesting habitat for huge numbers of birds.’
      • ‘It is obvious that the market is still in delicate health, but it is important to distinguish between old scars and new wounds.’
      • ‘His health was delicate and his studies were in consequence often interrupted.’
      • ‘But Martineau was in her sixties and in delicate health.’
      • ‘We speak of someone as in delicate health, for example, which means that he or she has to take precautions that ordinary healthy people can disregard.’
      • ‘After resigning because of delicate health in August of 1918, she was honorably discharged.’
      • ‘His total commitment to academic work together with rather delicate health meant that he was little involved with the social life of the school.’
      • ‘Although there was only a year of difference between their ages, she was small and petite, not fragile, but seemingly delicate.’
      • ‘We always conjectured that having no male role model, and this constant shifting at such an early age, probably left Helen a rather fragile, mentally delicate creature.’
      • ‘Most slugs eat decaying vegetation, but readily switch to young or delicate plants, feeding on the leaves, stems, roots and tubers.’
      • ‘And I never did interview her because I was aware of her delicate health and I wanted to do it properly - to spend an afternoon with her.’
      • ‘These are usually the more delicate plants such as Clematis viticella, which are best with an annual light prune followed by hard pruning every ten years.’
      • ‘Wildlife lovers in Cheshire have drawn up plans to protect the county's animals and delicate plants from future environmental threats.’
      sickly, in poor health, unhealthy, valetudinarian, frail, feeble, weak, weakly, debilitated
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    2. 2.2 (of a state or condition) easily upset or damaged.
      ‘owls have a delicate balance with their habitat’
      • ‘And the coast is our most fragile and delicate environment.’
      • ‘It has upset the delicate balance of life and death.’
      • ‘Some have argued that the timing of the Presbyterians' decision will undermine the delicate peace process now underway.’
      • ‘As you would expect the ferry crossing was not enjoyable and everyone was in a delicate state.’
      • ‘However, the Minister stressed that negotiations were at a delicate state at this point.’
      • ‘The wonderful team of nurses cared not only for Lydia, but the delicate state of the family at this time.’
      • ‘Our ancestors understood this delicate balance and went to great lengths not to upset it.’
      • ‘A law banning religious hatred will begin to unravel the delicate balances on which freedom and democracy depend.’
      • ‘This new law upsets the delicate balance which the courts had tried to achieve during the 1990s.’
      • ‘By the 14th century, there were a number of forces which upset this delicate balance.’
      • ‘Upon seeing such, I recoiled, remembering her delicate state of mind when it came to men.’
      • ‘To change position was to upset the delicate balance.’
      • ‘I kept it from you because I didn't want to upset you in your delicate condition.’
      • ‘Instead, it captures the delicate state of a country at its most vulnerable.’
      • ‘But these states are so delicate they are liable to be destroyed by background noise.’
      • ‘They also say it will damage rare and delicate upland habitats; hinder the local economy by deterring tourists; and dramatically devaluing nearby properties.’
      • ‘It also moved the region from a delicate peace to almost inevitable conflict.’
      • ‘You have the power and opportunity to show your true colours and minimize the damage to a delicate ecosystem.’
      • ‘This is a delicate equilibrium balance that can easily be ruined.’
      • ‘The present administration is a coalition reflecting a delicate balance between various constituencies.’
  • 3Requiring sensitive or careful handling.

    ‘delicate negotiations’
    • ‘Our readers have suggested the best ways to handle a delicate issue such as outlandish dressing by students in colleges.’
    • ‘Clearly, this is a delicate subject, Laurelle thought to herself.’
    • ‘This group does deal with very delicate political and diplomatic issues.’
    • ‘This movie takes a very mature and sophisticated approach to a delicate subject, offering no explanation as to why bad things can happen to good people.’
    • ‘Well, there s land acquisition (always an issue requiring delicate handling) and the cost of paying all those consultants.’
    • ‘So certainly the government is watching this very closely to see what influence this would have on the delicate politics here.’
    • ‘It is a delicate situation, politically, psychologically, socially.’
    • ‘Be human in your approach to this delicate situation and the employee will be that much more willing to listen to you.’
    • ‘That would be the right basis for the success of this new delicate political panoply.’
    • ‘She preferred the simple, direct approach to delicate topics.’
    • ‘We'd like to post more excerpts, but with the international political situation so delicate right now, it could tip us over the brink.’
    • ‘The first thing that strikes anybody is the extraordinary courage and unswerving neutrality with which she handles such a delicate issue.’
    • ‘You don't seem to understand how delicate your situation is.’
    • ‘Succession planning is too delicate a business for such an approach.’
    • ‘As to who really controls these hostages, this is all now part of another very delicate situation, political and diplomatic reality.’
    • ‘I am glad to see you have enough interest in the fascinatingly challenging and yet delicate game of Diplomacy to spend some time to read about it.’
    • ‘If this inflames delicate office politics, so much the better.’
    • ‘Addressing a smear is one of the hardest, trickiest, most delicate things in politics.’
    • ‘It's often hard to find the ‘right time’ to approach someone about a delicate issue, as well as being difficult to say the words you need to say.’
    • ‘She never really knew how to handle delicate situations requiring tact and sincere honesty.’
    difficult, tricky, sensitive, ticklish, awkward, problematic, problematical, touchy, prickly, controversial, emotive, embarrassing
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    1. 3.1 (of a person or an action) tactful and considerate.
      ‘the most delicate tact was called for’
      • ‘It is a very delicate process of being politically active, because taking seriously the people you are involved with is a key concern, without romanticising them.’
      • ‘Out of a crass-sounding approach has come a delicate and innovative solution.’
      • ‘This was no simple affair of the heart, but also a decision which entailed delicate political considerations.’
      • ‘Though he has a high school education, he has been trained to be a specialist here, and he considers his job as delicate as disarming a live bomb.’
      • ‘There has been a really delicate approach to this matter.’
      • ‘Hollywood is a place where nuanced language and delicate diplomacy is needed in offering up a critique of your betters.’
      • ‘Each requires a certain amount of respectful, delicate, thoughtful mountain climbing.’
      • ‘And later, a time of delicate diplomacy in the Middle East.’
      • ‘The film takes a delicate and patient approach toward its characters.’
      • ‘I think its fair to ask why the murder of a wife is treated in a sympathetic, delicate manner while the murder of a man in a pub is dramatised.’
      careful, considerate, sensitive
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    2. 3.2 Skillful and finely judged; deft.
      ‘his delicate ball-playing skills’
      • ‘In sport, delicate skills can plummet fast and far.’
      • ‘He exhibited more delicate skills when he headed home Hamilton's second goal.’
      • ‘The ladies are developing their newly acquired skills in the delicate art of egg decoration.’
      • ‘I am learning the delicate skill of the contestant interview.’
      • ‘He possesses that deft and delicate touch that can transform interesting prose into mesmerising poetry.’
      • ‘His movements were very quick, yet delicate, showing his skill and familiarity with the knife and the task.’
      • ‘They fought with the cold methodical precision of a toolmaker and the delicate skill of a highwire circus performer.’
      • ‘It takes a steady hand and delicate skill to push a wire safely into a human heart.’
      • ‘He reaches out a hand and with one deft, delicate dart of the fingers rotates my book to face him.’
      • ‘He preferred to finish the marble himself, and his delicate skill is apparent in two marble figures.’
      deft, dexterous, skilled, skilful, expert, finely judged, adept, adroit, neat, slick
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    3. 3.3 (of an instrument) highly sensitive.
      • ‘‘Leave us to work - this probe is delicate and we need to proceed with a lot of caution,’ he said.’
      • ‘Oetzi's corpse was removed from the ice, not by archaeologists, with delicate tools, but by the local mountain rescue team, with a steam hammer.’
      • ‘Anyway, it was very exiting to dig with the delicate tools.’
      • ‘They gently transferred each minuscule mite to the host bee via the most delicate instrument available: an eyelash mounted to a small stick.’
      • ‘People hurried through the walls, apparently careless of the delicate instruments everywhere.’
      • ‘A gesture, and a delicate knife was in his fingers.’
      • ‘At the far left sat three of the last five probes, boxed and stored carefully to protect their delicate instruments.’
      • ‘His eyes lit up as the gears shifted, and beneath the glass appeared a long, delicate needle.’
      • ‘The mind on which we rely is itself an extremely delicate instrument.’
      • ‘Maintenance instruments are so delicate they have to remain in the shop's controlled environment.’
      • ‘There are still layers of noise and sonic adventurousness, but now it is far more subtle in the mix, applied with a delicate brush rather than a trowel.’
      • ‘These rather delicate tools may have been used as small chisels or planes, perhaps for wood or bone carving or bark/fiber removal.’
      • ‘Like a delicate instrument; it records all the little agitations of seeing and being.’
      • ‘It measures 2.7 metres across and is built like a shellfish: its hard shell designed to protect its delicate instruments from the heat of entry into the atmosphere.’
      • ‘The requirements for accommodating the delicate optical instruments and other scientific apparatus determined the general elevation and ground plan of the building.’
      • ‘The delicate tools used for extrusion of aluminium or plastic profiles are therefore often polished manually.’
      • ‘There are many small and delicate Instruments that can get caught in the bottom of the sterilization pan.’
      • ‘Deftly extending the delicate instrument, the Duchess began scanning the landscape before her.’
      • ‘To describe this as a delicate instrument might be inaccurate, if the term were used in relation to other electrical instruments of extreme sensibility.’
      • ‘Two antennas will allow the spacecraft to communicate with Earth in any configuration, always having the side hosting delicate instruments away from the Sun.’
      sensitive, precision, precise, accurate, exact
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  • A delicate fabric or garment made of such fabric.

    • ‘Just make sure that my delicates are washed by hand.’
    • ‘General sorting categories are whites, light colors, bright or deep-colored materials, permanent press, delicates, and clothes for the dry cleaners.’
    • ‘So instead I hand-washed some delicates and got caught up with the ironing.’
    • ‘Egads, what about all those delicates hanging on the line?’
    • ‘I bet she'll be willing to part with her delicates - for the right price, that is - if she can have another pair made just like them.’
    • ‘They've developed new appliances to handle delicates, dry cleaning, a fancy ironing station, and of course they've redesigned the old workhorse washer and dryer.’
    • ‘It wasn't too long until I discovered her delicates (bras, panties, aerobic outfits, and make-up).’
    • ‘Once you have made your choice of delicates, you throw the rest of your clothes on and go about your day.’


  • in a delicate condition

    • archaic Pregnant.

      • ‘I try to help out around the house, but the family insists that I am in a delicate condition and must rest.’
      • ‘And don't be shy about telling someone who has bad breath, noxious perfume or cigarette smells on them that you're in a delicate condition and need some fresh air.’
      • ‘To her dismay, she soon found herself in a delicate condition and was obliged to marry George.’
      • ‘The timeline suggests, although I don't have proof, that she may have been in a delicate condition while she was at Yale.’
      • ‘If it wasn't for the fact that you are in a delicate condition, I would have tickled you mercilessly for that last comment.’
      expecting a baby, having a baby, with a baby on the way, having a child, expectant, carrying a child
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Late Middle English (in the sense ‘delightful, charming’): from French délicat or Latin delicatus, of unknown origin. Senses also expressed in Middle English (now obsolete) include ‘voluptuous’, ‘self-indulgent’, ‘fastidious’, and ‘effeminate’.