Definition of motif in English:



  • 1A decorative image or design, especially a repeated one forming a pattern.

    ‘the colourful hand-painted motifs which adorn narrowboats’
    • ‘Some decorative motifs were redrawn by the teacher to emphasize the kinds of decorative motifs typical of these different cultures.’
    • ‘Particular attention was given to design motifs that were found in several art forms (pottery, architecture, textiles and so on).’
    • ‘Its most characteristic theme was the use of sinuous asymmetrical lines based on plant forms; flower, leaf, and tendril motifs are common features, as are female figures with abundant flowing hair.’
    • ‘Using cracked linen as a surface, she painted motifs that conjure up images of Italian frescoes and simulate the effects of time and weather.’
    • ‘It is said that there are over 3,000 batik designs that include Indian, Chinese and Buddhist patterns including indigenous motifs of local fruits and flowers.’
    • ‘Included are geometrics, florals and foliates, animals and nature motifs and other decorative repeat patterns.’
    • ‘Some of these he roughly painted over with fish or flower motifs based upon traditional designs.’
    • ‘The patterns and motifs are highly complex, ranging from starbursts and amoebic shapes to flowers and birds.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Stencils are available in a variety of motifs and designs from art and crafts supply stores.’
    • ‘She uses a lot of wonderful patterns and motifs.’
    • ‘Crafted in gold or silver, medals were adorned with decorative motifs and appropriate inscriptions engraved by hand.’
    • ‘Their wood was carved with geometric patterns, especially a spiral motif (symbolising ‘mother earth’) similar to that on Georgian coins.’
    • ‘Walking into the lobby, one is met with a mixture of Moorish fittings and Victorian interior design; the square pillars are adorned with Baroque motifs.’
    • ‘Some critics have suggested a direct connection between the traditional design motifs found in West African art forms and those of slave-descended Southern blacks.’
    • ‘The design thus recalls interpenetrating circles as visual motifs found in his decorative work after 1910.’
    • ‘His recent paintings are not abstract evolutions of ancestral designs but oversized traditional motifs inscribed on a simplified ground.’
    • ‘Unlike the ceramics produced in other parts of the country, the ceramics from Sitiwinangun are rich in embossed decorations with various floral and plant motifs.’
    • ‘If you are a very classic dresser, I wouldn't recommend ties with motifs of animals or cartoons because they would probably come off as tacky and unattractive.’
    • ‘Her geometric paintings of the '60s and '80s, based on patterns and structured motifs, owe much to her background in textiles.’
    • ‘It is decorated with motifs designed by local school children.’
    design, pattern, decoration, figure, shape, logo, monogram, device, emblem, ornament
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    1. 1.1A decorative device applied to a garment or textile.
      ‘floral or other motifs are then appliquéd to net veils’
      • ‘You can cool off with fabrics that range from simple soft cottons with woven borders to hand-crushed silks with delicate embroidered motifs scattered all over the garment.’
      • ‘The business, based in Great Horton, was founded more than 150 years ago and specialises in the manufacture of jacquard machines, which are used to embroider names, motifs and symbols on to textiles.’
      • ‘Steamers are also found as a decorative motif on embroidered silk textiles.’
      • ‘She was wearing black jeans, a red jumper with a lion motif and a black bodywarmer when she disappeared.’
      • ‘Several days were then spent learning how to sew the porcupine quills into decorative motifs on the clothing and attaching the silverberry seeds to the fringes.’
      • ‘According to Galia Dicheva, spokesperson for the royal family, the bride will stick to the Bulgarian traditional-style gown with some folklore motifs on her dress.’
      • ‘As head of the Embroidery Department she achieved international recognition for her designs, patterns and motifs particularly in Germany and Austria.’
      • ‘He was wearing a light grey hooded top with a sports motif on the front and light grey bottoms.’
      • ‘Satin mini-skirts abound in a range of wild colors, some embroidered with floral motifs.’
      • ‘The decorative embroidery motifs are typical of the period and include a castle, insects and large-scale floral designs probably derived from printed patterns.’
      • ‘The motif (golf, surf) can be customized to suit the distributor's customer.’
      • ‘The man also wears a dark baseball cap with a motif on the front, light brown boots, and carries a dark coloured rucksack on his back.’
      • ‘He was last seen wearing a baseball cap with a crocodile motif, a black sweatshirt and dark blue jeans.’
      emblem, symbol, logo, badge, stamp, trademark, crest, insignia, coat of arms, escutcheon, seal, mark, figure, design, rune, logotype, logogram, monogram, hallmark, tag, motto, token, colophon, ideogram
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  • 2A dominant or recurring idea in an artistic work.

    ‘superstition is a recurring motif in the book’
    • ‘Those names, like everything in the book, echo the motif of hunger.’
    • ‘Norman is far from cannibalizing his own writing, and there is nothing wrong with recurring motifs and characters that stretch from one work to the next.’
    • ‘Multi-faceted, open-ended and provocative, this is a film whose many parallel scenes, recurring motifs and curious ironies offer plenty of fuel for thought.’
    • ‘The first four episodes build in mystery as we try to piece together recurring motifs of corpses, shared food, reversals of power.’
    • ‘Horses are one of the recurring motifs in Yeats's art, symbolic of loyalty, intelligence and the unbridled freedom of his early childhood.’
    • ‘A first group explores central themes in more than one of Roth's novels while others devote themselves to one text and the author's sophisticated presentation of themes and motifs.’
    • ‘There may not be a metanarrative to this book, but certain repetitive motifs are discernible no matter how he retells human history.’
    • ‘Obsession and addiction are recurring motifs, along with violent sex and occasional acts of extreme cruelty.’
    • ‘She is currently at work on a book studying the sovereignty motif in Heaney's verse.’
    • ‘One of Hitchcock's recurring motifs concerns a woman who suspects a loved one of being a monster.’
    • ‘Together they reveal his visual language and the motifs that recur throughout his work.’
    • ‘Hawthorne uses several motifs to express a recurring idea throughout the novel.’
    • ‘Their elaborate dance of courtship, which cannot call itself by that name, is the film's central motif.’
    • ‘Themes and motifs interweave and recur, circling around each other, acquiring new associations with each repetition.’
    • ‘This distinctively narrative work presents a host of motifs that recur throughout Schreuders' printed works, including mermaids and sculpted figures.’
    • ‘The motif of the globe recurs in other works by Georgiades.’
    • ‘In similar fashion he attributed other thematic resemblances between New Comedy and Sanskrit plays to the presence of universal themes and motifs.’
    • ‘The Dance of Death, which portrayed men and women of all classes dancing with a skeleton, became a popular artistic motif.’
    • ‘Chapter 1 introduces a series of motifs that recur in subsequent chapters and carry similar associations with them.’
    • ‘The relationship between land, landscape, and technological progress has always been a dominant motif in the American experience and its telling.’
    • ‘There is no attempt to create a genre with recurring motifs like, for example, chick lit's shoes, sex, and Chardonnay.’
    theme, idea, concept, subject, topic, leitmotif, element, motive, trope
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    1. 2.1Music A leitmotif or figure (see figure (sense 5of the noun))
      ‘in this opera, Verdi used identifying motifs’
      • ‘His operas reveal careful dramatic planning, and his use of recurring themes and motifs frequently creates conceptual and musical unity within a work.’
      • ‘The arrangements are intelligent without being fussy: tuneful refrains for cello and woodwind, beguiling motifs for piano and vibes, emotional guitar and restrained drums.’
      • ‘Musicologists know that Stravinsky mined collections of Russian folk music for motifs.’
      • ‘The work moves between quiet repetitive phrases for prepared piano and percussion to busy, Gamelan-like motifs for piano and digital synthesizer.’
      • ‘Counterpoint and repetition of motifs provide cohesiveness and musical logic.’
      theme, idea, concept, subject, topic, leitmotif, element, motive, trope
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  • 3Biochemistry
    A distinctive sequence on a protein or DNA, having a three-dimensional structure that allows binding interactions to occur.

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Each of the five proteins contains all four motifs, organized in the same order in the linear sequence.’
    • ‘Consequently, particular sets of correlated peptides serve to define particular sets of homologous protein motifs within the data set.’
    • ‘In the absence of sequence motifs and proteins capable of directing transcription, the protein it encodes will remain invisible to selection.’
    • ‘In principle, therefore, comparison of different haplotypes should permit the identification of sequence motifs that determine haplotype specificity.’


Mid 19th century: from French.