noun mo·tif \ mō-ˈtēf \

Definition of motif

1 : a usually recurring salient thematic element (as in the arts); especially : a dominant idea or central theme
2 : a single or repeated design or color


play \-ˈtē-fik, -ˈti-\ adjective

Examples of motif in a Sentence

  1. … a hip awareness of its own cheesy implausibility, right down to the music: The thunderously orchestrated score uses "Itsy Bitsy Spider" as a motif. People29 July 2002
  2. In retrospect, it is now clear that the alien invasion motif in 1950s science fiction movies reflected the Cold War atmosphere of the period. —Paul A. CantorGilligan Unbound2001
  3. The first-class scowl, shaved head and scars on his right shoulder and biceps fit the tough-guy motif, but it's a facade. —Ric BucherESPN28 May 2001
  4. The branding is done by combining a commercial trademark with one or another subcultural motif, a subculture the buyer belongs to or wants to join: surfing, skateboarding,  … —John SeabrookNew Yorker20 Sept. 1999
  5. The wallpaper has a flower motif.

  6. the motif of mute figures standing in lonely isolation is a recurrent one in the artist's works

Recent Examples of motif from the Web

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

Origin and Etymology of motif

French, motive, motif, from Middle French — more at motive

Other Fine Arts Terms

MOTIF Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of motif for English Language Learners

  • : something (such as an important idea or subject) that is repeated throughout a book, story, etc.

  • : a single or repeated design or pattern

Medical Dictionary


noun mo·tif \ mō-ˈtēf \

medical Definition of motif

: a distinctive usually recurrent molecular sequence (as of amino acids or base pairs) or structural elements (as of secondary protein structures)
  • These RNA molecules have an intriguing structural motif, absent in normal RNA, that recognizes an amino acid and chemically binds to it, forming a novel type of RNA enzyme, or ribozyme.
  • —Jessa NettingScience News7 Apr. 2001
  • Only about half these genes have recognizable motifs, or DNA-sequence patterns, that suggest possible functions.
  • —Alan E. Guttmacher and Francis S. CollinsThe New England Journal of Medicine7 Nov. 2002

Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


easily led, taught, or controlled

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Namesakes Word Quiz

  • a-citrus-fruit-possibly-named-after-a-person
  • Which of the following is a fruit named after a Moroccan seaport?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!