coun·ter·point | \ ˈkau̇n-tər-ˌpȯint \

Definition of counterpoint 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1a : one or more independent melodies added above or below a given melody

b : the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character : polyphony

2a : a complementing or contrasting item : opposite

b : use of contrast or interplay of elements in a work of art (such as a drama)


counterpointed; counterpointing; counterpoints

Definition of counterpoint (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to compose or arrange in counterpoint

2 : to set off or emphasize by juxtaposition : set in contrast counterpoints the public and the private man —Tom Bishop

Examples of counterpoint in a Sentence


The guitar and bass are played in counterpoint. The dressing is a refreshing counterpoint to the spicy chicken. The painting is a pleasant counterpoint to his earlier works. The music works in counterpoint to the images on the screen.


The violence of the movie is counterpointed by ironic humor.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Now, for the (more popular) counterpoint: Why the Cubs are worse The Miller Park takeover. Jr Radcliffe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Brewers fans, if you had to pick one, who do you despise more? Cardinals or Cubs?," 12 June 2018 Mozilla has also worked to to provide a counterpoint to the internet's woes. Louise Matsakis, WIRED, "Mozilla Diagnoses the Health of the Global Internet," 10 Apr. 2018 Offering a subversive counterpoint to the deeply romantic palette? Kate Branch, Vogue, "Saoirse Ronan’s Best Red Carpet Beauty Moments Come Down to These Tiny Details," 11 July 2018 The new study offers a counterpoint to previous findings, which showed that at least some discrimination persisted when cars were hailed via an app. David Z. Morris, Fortune, "Ride-Hailing Apps May Benefit Poor and Minority Communities The Most, Study Suggests," 30 June 2018 Announcing Moon plans at IAC would also offer an interesting counterpoint to Elon Musk's use of that venue in 2016 and 2017 to discuss his Mars plans. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "Rocket report: China goes lunar, Antares flies, and a 140-ton Sea Serpent," 25 May 2018 Bowhead whales in Alaska's Arctic waters appear to be thriving even as sea ice shrinks, offering a counterpoint to climate-change concerns that have prompted federal threatened status for some other northern animals such as polar bears. Alex Demarban, Anchorage Daily News, "Bowhead whales, dwellers of icy seas, enjoy steady growth off Alaska in the age of climate change," 13 May 2018 During a time when too many rock bands aped Nirvana’s and Pearl Jam’s styles, whining through their bad Eddie Vedder impressions to land a lucrative hit, the sound of marimba echoing under soft, breezy symphonies offered a welcome counterpoint. Aaron Gilbreath, Longreads, "Finding the Soundtrack to My Desert Life," 25 Apr. 2018 The one-day Our Security Advocates event offered a counterpoint to the monolithic approach of large, prominent security conferences, by offering a diverse agenda and set of speakers to promote inclusive representation in privacy and security fields. Lily Hay Newman, WIRED, "An Alternative Security Conference Calls Out Lack of Inclusion," 18 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Carpaccio di tonno — thin slices of ahi counterpointed by capers, olive oil and peppery arugula — was clean, simple and very good. Kate Washington, sacbee, "It's not flashy or splashy, but Roseville's Ciao excels at cooking classic Italian," 8 June 2018 Carolyn Holland, Ecotrust's vice president for communications, would not say what counterpoints the group has about the state's plan to claw back part of the tax credit. Hillary Borrud,, "Oregon could claw back $1 million tax credit from failed sawmill," 11 May 2018 Arendt’s sheer delight in intellectual speculation counterpoints her intense ethical commitment to thinking as a form of political engagement. George Prochnik, New York Times, "The Philosopher in Dark Times," 12 Apr. 2018 The smartest touch is counterpointing the pair’s bickering with the idealized representation of American life presented by a scatting jazz trio, who comment on the action like a Greek chorus of ’50s hepcats. John Von Rhein,, "Lyric Opera offers up a sweet celebration of Bernstein at 100," 11 Mar. 2018 But the high adventure is counterpointed at every turn by self-conscious humor. Steve Stern, New York Times, "Broken Promises in the Promised Land," 11 Sep. 2017 Heads are often presented in the lower half of the image, counterpointed with open space (where God resides?) and the details of the confining environments in which their lives play out. Neil Young, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Apostasy': Film Review | San Sebastian 2017," 9 Oct. 2017 Traffic on the adjacent road, jets rumbling overhead, clicking spokes of passing bicycles, the frictive thrum of a skateboard, the crunch of your own footsteps — all shift from background noise to counterpoint for the tones emanating from above. Leah Ollman,, "Composer John Luther Adams' new campus 'Wind Garden' art installation is heard more than it is seen," 23 Aug. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'counterpoint.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of counterpoint


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1875, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for counterpoint


Middle English, from Middle French contrepoint, from Medieval Latin contrapunctus, from Latin contra- counter- + Medieval Latin punctus musical note, melody, from Latin, act of pricking, from pungere to prick — more at pungent

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Last Updated

11 Sep 2018

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The first known use of counterpoint was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for counterpoint



English Language Learners Definition of counterpoint

 (Entry 1 of 2)

music : a combination of two or more melodies that are played together

: a melody played in combination with another

: something that is different from something else in usually a pleasing way



English Language Learners Definition of counterpoint (Entry 2 of 2)

: to put two things together in a way that shows how different they are from each other

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Comments on counterpoint

What made you want to look up counterpoint? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


the setting in which something occurs

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