AskDefine | Define motif

Dictionary Definition



1 a design that consists of recurring shapes or colors
2 a theme that is elaborated on in a piece of music [syn: motive]
3 a unifying idea that is a recurrent element in a literary or artistic work; "it was the usual `boy gets girl' theme" [syn: theme]

User Contributed Dictionary



From French motif (1848), with the meaning of main idea or theme


  • IPA: /məʊ'tif/


  1. A recurring or dominant element; a theme.
    See how the artist repeats the scroll motif throughout the work?
  2. A short melodic passage that is repeated in several parts of a work
  3. A decorative figure that is repeated in a design
  4. crystallography: The physical object or objects repeated at each point of a lattice. Usually atoms or molecules.


recurring or dominant element; a theme
(music) A short melodic passage that is repeated in several parts of a work
A decorative figure that is repeated in a design
(crystallography) The physical object or objects repeated at each point of a lattice

Related terms



From motivus.



fr-noun m
  1. motive (motif)
  2. pattern, design

Extensive Definition

Motive or motif are terms that turn up in many different forms in literature and other creative works, as well as other fields such as business and law.
A motif may be a recurring fragment, theme or pattern in a creative work:
In biochemistry:
  • Sequence motif, a sequence pattern of nucleotides in a DNA sequence or amino acids in a protein.
  • Structural motif, a pattern in a protein structure formed by the spatial arrangement of amino acids.
  • A repeating pattern of elements in a crystal structure.
A motive may relate to intent:
In music:
motif in German: Motiv
motif in French: Motif
motif in Korean: 동기
motif in Hebrew: מוטיב
motif in Japanese: 動機
motif in Norwegian: Motiv
motif in Polish: Motyw
motif in Russian: Мотив
motif in Slovak: Motív
motif in Ukrainian: Мотив

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

action, anagnorisis, angle, architectonics, architecture, argument, atmosphere, background, background detail, basis, beading, binding, bordering, bordure, burden, case, catastrophe, chapter, characterization, color, complication, concept, concern, continuity, contrivance, convention, decoration, decorative composition, decorative style, denouement, design, detail, development, device, edging, element, episode, essence, fable, falling action, figure, fimbria, fimbriation, flounce, focus of attention, focus of interest, foil, foreground detail, form, frill, frilling, fringe, furbelow, galloon, gimmick, gist, head, heading, hem, idea, incident, issue, leitmotif, leitmotiv, line, list, living issue, local color, main point, matter, matter in hand, meat, mood, motive, movement, mythos, national style, ornament, ornamental motif, pattern, period style, peripeteia, phrase, plan, plot, point, point at issue, point in question, problem, question, recognition, refrain, repeated figure, rising action, rubric, ruffle, scheme, secondary plot, selvage, setting, skirting, slant, story, structure, style, subject, subject matter, subject of thought, subplot, substance, switch, text, thematic development, theme, tone, topic, touch, trimming, twist, valance, welt
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