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[theem] /θim/
a subject of discourse, discussion, meditation, or composition; topic:
The need for world peace was the theme of the meeting.
a unifying or dominant idea, motif, etc., as in a work of art.
a short, informal essay, especially a school composition.
  1. a principal melodic subject in a musical composition.
  2. a short melodic subject from which variations are developed.
Grammar. the element common to all or most of the forms of an inflectional paradigm, often consisting of a root with certain formative elements or modifications.
Compare stem1 (def 16).
Linguistics. topic (def 4).
Also, thema. an administrative division of the Byzantine Empire.
having a unifying theme:
a theme restaurant decorated like a spaceship.
verb (used with object), themed, theming.
to provide with a theme.
Origin of theme
1250-1300; Middle English teme, theme (< Old French teme) < Medieval Latin thema, Latin < Greek théma proposition, deposit, akin to tithénai to put, set down
Related forms
themeless, adjective
subtheme, noun
1. thesis, text. See subject. 3. paper. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for theme
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It is such as I will describe; for I must dare to speak the truth, when truth is my theme.

    Phaedrus Plato
  • He regards it as short when measured by the greatness of its theme.

    Expositions of Holy Scripture Alexander Maclaren
  • The theme of their conversation spoilt his buoyancy for that afternoon.

    Life's Little Ironies Thomas Hardy
  • Dante said nothing, but looked at me, and I supported Guido's theme.

    The God of Love Justin Huntly McCarthy
  • To this hour I don't know for sure what he was driving at—what is the theme of the book!

    Books and Persons Arnold Bennett
British Dictionary definitions for theme


an idea or topic expanded in a discourse, discussion, etc
(in literature, music, art, etc) a unifying idea, image, or motif, repeated or developed throughout a work
(music) a group of notes forming a recognizable melodic unit, often used as the basis of the musical material in a composition
a short essay, esp one set as an exercise for a student
(linguistics) the first major constituent of a sentence, usually but not necessarily the subject. In the sentence history I do like, "history" is the theme of the sentence, even though it is the object of the verb
(grammar) another word for root1 (sense 9), stem1 (sense 9)
(in the Byzantine Empire) a territorial unit consisting of several provinces under a military commander
(modifier) planned or designed round one unifying subject, image, etc: a theme holiday
(transitive) to design, decorate, arrange, etc, in accordance with a theme
Derived Forms
themeless, adjective
Word Origin
C13: from Latin thema, from Greek: deposit, from tithenai to lay down
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for theme

c.1300, from Old French tesme (13c., with silent -s-), from Latin thema "a subject, thesis," from Greek thema "a proposition, subject, deposit," literally "something set down," from root of tithenai "put down, place," from PIE root *dhe- "to put, to do" (see factitious). Extension to music first recorded 1670s; theme song first attested 1929. Theme park is from 1960.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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theme in Culture

theme definition

A central idea in a piece of writing or other work of art: “The theme of desperation is found throughout his novels.” Also a short composition assigned to a student as a writing exercise.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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