1 of 2


ob·​bli·​ga·​to ˌä-blə-ˈgä-(ˌ)tō How to pronounce obbligato (audio)
: not to be omitted : obligatory
used as a direction in music
compare ad libitum


2 of 2


plural obbligatos also obbligati ˌä-blə-ˈgä-tē How to pronounce obbligato (audio)
: an elaborate especially melodic part accompanying a solo or principal melody and usually played by a single instrument
a song with violin obbligato
: accompaniment sense 2b
especially : an attendant background sound

Examples of obbligato in a Sentence

Noun with the babble of the brook as an obbligato, we enjoyed our picnic
Recent Examples on the Web
The other was the whole first section of the fast movement, a solo in F major with obbligato flute, in which Florestan recalls happier days with Leonore at his side. Will Crutchfield, New York Times, 21 Feb. 2020
There is a lovely horn obbligato to Sifare’s Act 3 aria which would be challenging to play on a modern instrument. Christian Hertzog, San Diego Union-Tribune, 17 July 2023 As an obbligato of protest continued behind Wilson, Dylan, accepting Wilson’s advice, sang the insert. Mick Stevens, The New Yorker, 12 Aug. 2021 The long orchestral introduction left no doubt as to where composer Stephenson’s interests lay, the work’s first two movements amounting to symphonic statements with bass trombone obbligato. Howard Reich, chicagotribune.com, 14 June 2019 The aria is enhanced by trumpet and oboe obbligatos, which were handled deftly by trumpeter Steve Marquardt and oboist Debra Nagy. Special To The Plain Dealer, cleveland.com, 16 Oct. 2017 The orchestra's alert accompaniment was at one with the pianist's purposes, as was Stefan Ragnar Hoskuldsson's dulcet flute obbligato in the opening movement. John Von Rhein, chicagotribune.com, 9 June 2017 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'obbligato.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



borrowed from Italian, "obligatory, essential to a musical composition," from past participle of obbligare "to require (someone to do something), oblige," going back to Latin obligāre — more at oblige


derivative of obbligato entry 1

First Known Use


1740, in the meaning defined above


1825, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of obbligato was in 1740

Dictionary Entries Near obbligato

Cite this Entry

“Obbligato.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obbligato. Accessed 3 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
ob·​bli·​ga·​to ˌäb-lə-ˈgät-ō How to pronounce obbligato (audio)
: not to be left out
used as a direction in music


2 of 2 noun
plural obbligatos also obbligati
: an important melodic part usually played by a single instrument to accompany another instrument or a singer
a violin obbligato

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