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

When asked by Entertainment Weekly to cast their ideal adult counterpoints, both Finn and Sophia guessed correctly — Finn wanted Bill Hader and Sophia wanted Jessica Chastain. Claire Dodson, Teen Vogue, ""It: Chapter 2" Has Started Filming and the Losers Club Is Complete," 2 July 2018 The novel is not Romy’s alone; the strongest counterpoint to her voice is that of Gordon Hauser, a teacher for the California Department of Corrections who lives in a cabin in the Sierra foothills. The Economist, "Rachel Kushner goes behind bars," 24 May 2018 Easily the most creative ensemble of the evening, Cotillard’s unconventional pants provided a refreshing counterpoint to the sea of conventional cocktail dresses and ball gowns that appear during awards season. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "Marion Cotillard Delivers French Girl Futurism in Balmain," 16 Jan. 2018 But her military résumé provides a strong counterpoint. Michael Tackett, New York Times, "In Conservative Kentucky, Power of Female Candidates Is Tested in Key House Race," 16 June 2018 The alliance was founded about a decade ago as the Progressive Business Leaders Network to give left-leaning businesspeople a voice at the State House and provide a progressive counterpoint to the big business groups in Boston., "After a long hunt, ad agency Connelly Partners pulls off an acquisition in Dublin," 9 Apr. 2018 The chocolate ganache filling provides a rich, creamy counterpoint to the chewy almond cookies, while the meringue imparts a sweet stickiness. Florence Steinberger, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Mimouna sweets, a Moroccan tradition, herald the end of Passover," 3 Apr. 2018 Kanye West has been working with the Australian sportswear brand since February 2017, and their slinky scuba suits have provided a nice counterpoint to slouchy Yeezy shearling jackets and cardigans in the past. Edward Barsamian, Vogue, "Kim Kardashian West Gives a Sneak Peek at a New Yeezy Collaboration," 20 Mar. 2018 Its soccer team, uniquely likable and, for once, really good, is a counterpoint. Sean Williams, The New Republic, "England’s World Cup Team: the Anti-Brexit," 10 July 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

6 Nov 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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