timbre

noun
tim·​bre | \ ˈtam-bər How to pronounce timbre (audio) , ˈtim-; ˈtam(brᵊ)\
variants: or less commonly timber

Definition of timbre

: the quality given to a sound by its overtones: such as
a : the resonance by which the ear recognizes and identifies a voiced speech sound
b : the quality of tone distinctive of a particular singing voice or musical instrument

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from timbre

timbral \ ˈtam-​brəl How to pronounce timbral (audio) , ˈtim-​ \ adjective

Timber and Timbre

Timber and timbre are two similar-looking words that appear in very different contexts. At least most of the time.

Timber traces back to an Old English word initially meaning “house” or “building” that also came to mean “building material,” “wood,” and “trees” or “woods.” Timbers are large squared lengths of wood used for building a house or a boat. In British English, timber is also used as a synonym for lumber.

Metaphorical senses followed after centuries of the word’s use: the word used for building material became a word meaning “material” or “stuff” in general (“it’s best-seller timber”) and came also to refer to the qualities of character, experience, or intellect (“managerial timber”).

And, of course, there’s also the interjectional use of “timber!” as a cry to warn of a falling tree; the fact that most people know this despite few of them ever having deployed the word in such a situation is almost certainly due to cartoons.

Timbre is French in origin, which is apparent in its pronunciation: it is often pronounced \TAM-ber\ and, with a more French-influenced second syllable, \TAM-bruh\. The French ancestor of timbre was borrowed at three different times into English, each time with a different meaning, each time reflecting the evolution that the word had made in French.

The first two meanings timbre had in English (it referred to a kind of drum and to the crest on a coat of arms) are now too obscure for entry in this dictionary, but its third meaning survives. Timbre in modern English generally refers to the quality of a sound made by a particular voice or musical instrument; timbre is useful in being distinct from pitch, intensity, and loudness as a descriptor of sound.

But because English is rarely simple about such things, we have also these facts: timber is listed as a variant spelling of timbre. And timbre may also be correctly pronounced just like timber as \TIM-ber\. And the spelling of timber was unsettled for many years; it was sometimes spelled tymmer, tymber, and, yes, timbre. The messy overlapping of these similar words is coincidental: the consequence of the intersection of the different cultures and languages that left their traces on English.

Examples of timbre in a Sentence

the timbre of his voice

Recent Examples on the Web

Johnsrud’s savvy lines and reedy timbre made a seemingly four-square song into something genuinely sophisticated. Howard Reich, chicagotribune.com, "Mister Rogers' music gets jazzed at Winter's Jazz Club," 23 Mar. 2018 Instrumental timbres now sound fresh, clean and textured, and have far greater presence than in the 1968 mix. Allan Kozinn, WSJ, "The Beatles’ Big Ideas Turn 50," 9 Nov. 2018 Abercrombie herself was born in Los Angeles, raised in Sweden; her accent is a little Swedish, a little deeply rounded North Country timbre. Christopher Borrelli, chicagotribune.com, "Chicago museum aims to explain mystery of immigration to kids, via Sweden," 26 June 2018 The afternoon concert captured here—the first time anyone had performed these two ragas in Paris at the appropriate time of day—makes an effective showcase for his microtonal precision, ingenious phrasing, and penetrating timbre. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Ensemble dal Niente pianist Mabel Kwan on a playful post-smartphone look at David," 10 Jan. 2018 For starters, Alsop happens to be a like-minded musician, interested more in warmth of timbre and arc of line than technical bravura or showmanship for its own sake. Howard Reich, chicagotribune.com, "CSO at Ravinia review: Marin Alsop poetically launches Bernstein tribute," 13 July 2018 But listen further and notice the layered melodies, the often intriguing timbres and assured handling of folk styles, meaning that Price deserves a place among the significant American composers of her time. Brian Wise, WSJ, "Florence Price in Concert and on Disc: A Harvest of Rediscovery," 5 Dec. 2018 Instruments and vocals have an organic and realistic timbre that’s both pleasing and enticing. Vlad Savov, The Verge, "Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless review: sonic standout," 30 Nov. 2018 And what of Slimane’s voice, one of the most clear and distinctive out there: How has his time away altered its timbre? Vogue, "How These 12 Boundary-Breaking Designers Continue to Think Globally," 13 Aug. 2018

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

See More

First Known Use of timbre

1845, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for timbre

French, from Middle French, bell struck by a hammer, from Old French, drum, from Middle Greek tymbanon kettledrum, from Greek tympanon — more at tympanum

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about timbre

Dictionary Entries near timbre

timber yard

timbes

timbo

timbre

timbrel

time

time's up

Statistics for timbre

Last Updated

6 Jun 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for timbre

The first known use of timbre was in 1845

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for timbre

timbre

noun

English Language Learners Definition of timbre

: the quality of the sound made by a particular voice or musical instrument

timbre

noun
tim·​bre
variants: also timber \ ˈtam-​bər How to pronounce timber (audio) , ˈtim-​; ˈtam(brᵊ) How to pronounce timber (audio) \

Medical Definition of timbre

: the quality given to a sound by its overtones: as
a : the resonance by which the ear recognizes and identifies a voiced speech sound
b : the quality of tone distinctive of a particular singing voice or musical instrument

Other Words from timbre

timbral \ ˈtam-​brəl How to pronounce timbral (audio) , ˈtim-​ How to pronounce timbral (audio) \ adjective

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on timbre

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with timbre

Spanish Central: Translation of timbre

Nglish: Translation of timbre for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of timbre for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about timbre

Comments on timbre

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

WORD OF THE DAY

incapable of being surmounted or overcome

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Dictionary Devil

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

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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