Aim The objective of this research was to investigate the feasibility of transthoracic shear wave elastography in the differentiation of subpleural masses. Methods Between December 2019 and November 2020,82 consecutive patients with radiographic evidence (including chest X ray and thoracic computed tomography CT) of single subpleural lesion enrolled in this research. The Young’s modulus E (including Emean and Emax) of each lesion was detected, and the Young’s modulus E of malignant lesions were compared with those of benign ones. We made diagnoses according to the results of pathology or standard clinical course for at least 3 months. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis was plotted to determine the cut-off point by maximizing the Youden index. Results The Emean and Emax of the benign and malignant group was 34.68 ± 12.12 kPa vs. 53.82 ± 11.95 kPa ( p < 0.001), 57.77 ± 14.45 kPa vs. 76.62 ± 17.04 kPa ( p < 0.001). The ROC of Emean showed that when the cut-off point was 43.8 kPa, the Youden index (0.53) for distinguishing benign and malignant tumors was the largest (sensitivity 80.4 %, specificity 72.2 %, AUC = 0.848, p < 0.0001). When the cut-off point recommended by Emax ROC was 73.5 kPa, the Youden index (0.44) for distinguishing benign and malignant tumors was the largest (sensitivity 76.1 %, specificity 66.7 %, AUC = 0.780, p < 0.0001). Conclusions This study demonstrated that we can employ transthoracic shear wave elastography as a valuable instrument in differentiating benign subpleural lesions from malign ones.