Definition of delicate in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈdɛlɪkət/


1Very fine in texture or structure; of intricate workmanship or quality: a delicate lace shawl
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • The crinkles in the gold leaf highlight the delicate texture of lace, the mottled surface of a pine plank table, or the peeling walls.
  • When at the click of a button you have the world on your screen, why bother debating the intricate and delicate fabrics our lives?
fine, exquisite, intricate, dainty, airy, elegant, graceful;
flimsy, gauzy, filmy, floaty, gossamer, diaphanous, chiffony, silky, wispy, thin, insubstantial, papery
1.1(Of colour) subtle and subdued: delicate pastel shades
More example sentences
  • The colours are dominated by delicate pastels and powdery shades of white, sand, cream and beige.
  • The brow pencil in Soft Brown is a delicate colour and blended well when it was brushed.
  • The raspberry vodka is photosensitive so, in contrast to their other flavours, they bottle it in dark glass so it keeps its delicate colour.
subtle, soft, subdued, muted;
pastel, pale, light
1.2(Of food or drink) subtly and pleasantly flavoured: a delicate, sweet flavour
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • Well done toast on the nose gives way to delicate strawberry and raspberry flavours with hazelnut to finish.
  • The spotted crab, known for the colorful blue streaks on its shell, as well as its sweet and delicate meat, is famous.
2Easily broken or damaged; fragile: delicate china
More example sentences
  • Chemicals from tobacco smoke get into your bloodstream and can damage the delicate blood vessels inside your eye.
  • 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.
  • The lungs are also delicate and easily damaged if the ventilation is too aggressive.
fragile, breakable, easily broken/damaged, frail, frangible;
2.1Susceptible to illness or adverse conditions: his delicate health
More example sentences
  • 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;
unwell, infirm, ailing, poorly
Northern English informal nesh
2.2(Of a state or condition) easily upset or affected: owls have a delicate balance with their habitat
More example sentences
  • I kept it from you because I didn't want to upset you in your delicate condition.
  • The wonderful team of nurses cared not only for Lydia, but the delicate state of the family at this time.
  • Instead, it captures the delicate state of a country at its most vulnerable.
3Requiring sensitive or careful handling: delicate negotiations
More example sentences
  • Well, there s land acquisition (always an issue requiring delicate handling) and the cost of paying all those consultants.
  • She never really knew how to handle delicate situations requiring tact and sincere honesty.
  • Our readers have suggested the best ways to handle a delicate issue such as outlandish dressing by students in colleges.
difficult, tricky, sensitive, ticklish, awkward, problematic, problematical, touchy, prickly, controversial, emotive, embarrassing
informal sticky, dicey
3.1Tactful and considerate: a delicate approach is needed
More example sentences
  • 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.
careful, considerate, sensitive;
tactful, diplomatic, discreet, gentle, kid-glove, softly-softly
3.2Skilful and finely judged; deft: his delicate ball-playing skills
More example sentences
  • He possesses that deft and delicate touch that can transform interesting prose into mesmerising poetry.
  • He reaches out a hand and with one deft, delicate dart of the fingers rotates my book to face him.
  • The ladies are developing their newly acquired skills in the delicate art of egg decoration.
deft, dexterous, skilled, skilful, expert, finely judged, adept, adroit, neat, slick
informal nifty
3.3(Of an instrument) highly sensitive.
Example sentences
  • Maintenance instruments are so delicate they have to remain in the shop's controlled environment.
  • Two antennas will allow the spacecraft to communicate with Earth in any configuration, always having the side hosting delicate instruments away from the Sun.
  • They gently transferred each minuscule mite to the host bee via the most delicate instrument available: an eyelash mounted to a small stick.
sensitive, precision, precise, accurate, exact


A delicate fabric or garment: [as modifier]: the delicates cycle of a washing machine
More example sentences
  • It wasn't too long until I discovered her delicates (bras, panties, aerobic outfits, and make-up).
  • 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.


in a delicate condition

archaic Pregnant.
Example sentences
  • 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.
  • To her dismay, she soon found herself in a delicate condition and was obliged to marry George.



Example sentences
  • It was fantastic and different, somehow managing to bring out the delicateness of fish and the heartiness of stew at the same time.
  • They were definitely a man's step, not the same delicateness of a woman, but they were definitely muffled, it sounded like a man who naturally walked silently.
  • It has a delicateness of tone that recalls Debussy.


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'.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: deli|cate

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