noun mo·tif \mō-ˈtēf\

Definition of motif

  1. 1 :  a usually recurring salient thematic element (as in the arts); especially :  a dominant idea or central theme

  2. 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. —People, 29 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. Cantor, Gilligan Unbound, 2001

  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 Bucher, ESPN, 28 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 Seabrook, New Yorker, 20 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

Origin and Etymology of motif

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

First Known Use: 1848

Other Fine Arts Terms

MOTIF Defined for English Language Learners


noun mo·tif \mō-ˈtēf\

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

  1. :  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 Netting, Science News, 7 Apr. 2001 Only about half these genes have recognizable motifs, or DNA-sequence patterns, that suggest possible functions.—Alan E. Guttmacher and Francis S. Collins, The New England Journal of Medicine, 7 Nov. 2002

Seen and Heard

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a brief usually trivial fact

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