Definition of motif in English:

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Pronunciation: /mōˈtēf/


1A decorative design or pattern: T-shirts featuring spiral motifs
More example sentences
  • In addition to church furnishings and tombs, he specialized in the design of ornamental motifs, which he popularized in a series of engravings, 1548-77.
  • Included are geometrics, florals and foliates, animals and nature motifs and other decorative repeat patterns.
  • Crafted in gold or silver, medals were adorned with decorative motifs and appropriate inscriptions engraved by hand.
design, pattern, decoration, figure, shape, device, emblem, ornament
1.1A distinctive feature or dominant idea in an artistic or literary composition: the nautical motif of his latest novel
More example sentences
  • This distinctively narrative work presents a host of motifs that recur throughout Schreuders' printed works, including mermaids and sculpted figures.
  • Chapter 1 introduces a series of motifs that recur in subsequent chapters and carry similar associations with them.
  • There is no attempt to create a genre with recurring motifs like, for example, chick lit's shoes, sex, and Chardonnay.
1.2 Music A short succession of notes producing a single impression; a brief melodic or rhythmic formula out of which longer passages are developed: the motif in the second violin is submerged by the first violin’s countermelody
More example sentences
  • Each invention is highly contrapuntal and most are imitative in texture, developing a short melodic motif.
  • The ebullient finale bristled with detail, particularly in the two fugal interludes that develop the initial, playful motif into a serious contrapuntal argument.
  • To confuse the matter even more, there are the anthems of different nations that are, in fact, the same, as well as those that have consciously borrowed melodic motifs and phrases from other anthems.
1.3An ornament of lace, braid, etc., sewn separately on a garment.
Example sentences
  • Steamers are also found as a decorative motif on embroidered silk textiles.
  • Satin mini-skirts abound in a range of wild colors, some embroidered with floral motifs.
  • She was wearing black jeans, a red jumper with a lion motif and a black bodywarmer when she disappeared.
1.4 Biochemistry A distinctive sequence on a protein or DNA, having a three-dimensional structure that allows binding interactions to occur.
Example sentences
  • Early on, clustering was used to detect common three-dimensional structural motifs in proteins.
  • Specifically, we defined two small but functionally important structural motifs within the Rux protein.
  • Consequently, particular sets of correlated peptides serve to define particular sets of homologous protein motifs within the data set.


Mid 19th century: from French.

Words that rhyme with motif

aperitif, beef, belief, brief, chief, enfeoff, fief, grief, interleaf, leaf, Leif, lief, Mazar-e-Sharif, misbelief, naif, O'Keeffe, reef, seif, Sharif, sheaf, shereef, sportif, Tenerife, thief

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: mo·tif

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