from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A recurrent thematic element in an artistic or literary work.
  • noun A dominant theme or central idea.
  • noun Music A short rhythmic or melodic passage that is repeated or evoked in various parts of a composition.
  • noun A repeated figure or design in architecture or decoration. synonym: figure.
  • noun A recurrent pattern either of molecular sequence, usually of nucleotides or amino acids in proteins, or of molecular structure that usually corresponds to specific biological activity.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A Middle English form of motive.
  • noun [F.] A datum, theme, or ground for intellectual action: used as French.
  • noun [F.] In music:
  • noun A figure.
  • noun A subject or theme, particularly one that recurs often in a dramatic work as a leading subject.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun archaic Motive.
  • noun (Music) In literature and the fine arts, a salient feature or element of a composition or work; esp., the theme, or central or dominant feature
  • noun (Dressmaking) A decorative appliqué design or figure, as of lace or velvet, used in trimming; also, a repeated design.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A recurring or dominant element; a theme.
  • noun music A short melodic passage that is repeated in several parts of a work
  • noun A decorative figure that is repeated in a design
  • noun crystallography The physical object or objects repeated at each point of a lattice. Usually atoms or molecules.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a unifying idea that is a recurrent element in literary or artistic work
  • noun a theme that is repeated or elaborated in a piece of music
  • noun a design or figure that consists of recurring shapes or colors, as in architecture or decoration


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[French, from Old French, motive; see motive.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From French motif (1848), with the meaning of main idea or theme


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word motif.



Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • a pattern in a protein structure formed by the spatial arrangement of amino acids

    November 12, 2010

  • cool I like that definition jwjarvis

    November 13, 2010