a. A recurrent thematic element in an artistic or literary work.
b. A dominant theme or central idea.
2. Music A short rhythmic or melodic passage that is repeated or evoked in various parts of a composition.
3. A repeated figure or design in architecture or decoration. See Synonyms at figure.
4. A recurrent pattern either of molecular sequence, usually of nucleotides or amino acids in proteins, or of molecular structure that usually corresponds to specific biological activity.
[French, from Old French, motive; see MOTIVE.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.