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[tree-foil, tref-oil] /ˈtri fɔɪl, ˈtrɛf ɔɪl/
any of numerous plants belonging to the genus Trifolium, of the legume family, having usually digitate leaves of three leaflets and reddish, purple, yellow, or white flower heads, comprising the common clovers.
any of various similar plants.
Architecture. an ornament composed of three lobes, divided by cusps, radiating from a common center.
such an ornamental figure used by the Girl Scouts as its official emblem.
of, relating to, or shaped like a trefoil.
Origin of trefoil
1350-1400; Middle English < Anglo-French trifoil < Latin trifolium triple leaf, the three-leaved plant, clover, equivalent to tri- tri- + folium leaf Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for trefoil
Historical Examples
  • It is a circular basin, adorned with an arcade of trefoil arches.

  • The tympanum of the large arch is pierced with a quatrefoil or trefoil.

    Scottish Cathedrals and Abbeys Dugald Butler and Herbert Story
  • Everybody knew that she was a trefoil and her presence therefore raised no question.

    The American Senator Anthony Trollope
  • For the figure cut in the rind was that of a shamrock—a trefoil with its stalk.

    Commodore Junk George Manville Fenn
  • These trefoil leaves are made separately, and then sewn together.

    Beeton's Book of Needlework Isabella Beeton
  • Of cuckoo-flowers, “or Ladies smockes,” both the double and the trefoil.

    The Old English Herbals Eleanour Sinclair Rohde
  • The trefoil opening is made by boring three holes with a large bit at the points of a triangle.

    Carpentry and Woodwork Edwin W. Foster
  • It feeds on Bird's-foot trefoil and other leguminous plants.

    British Butterfiles W. S. Coleman
  • Only don't let this trefoil of yours get to fighting with one another.

    Clover Susan Coolidge
  • Lotus is the name of a native genus akin to the trefoil and clovers.

British Dictionary definitions for trefoil


any of numerous leguminous plants of the temperate genus Trifolium, having leaves divided into three leaflets and dense heads of small white, yellow, red, or purple flowers
any of various related plants having leaves divided into three leaflets, such as bird's-foot trefoil
a leaf having three leaflets
(architect) an ornament in the form of three arcs arranged in a circle
Derived Forms
trefoiled, adjective
Word Origin
C14: from Anglo-French trifoil, from Latin trifolium three-leaved herb, from tri- + folium leaf
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 trefoil

c.1400, from Anglo-French trifoil (c.1265), from Old French trefeuil, from Latin trifolium "three-leaved plant," from tri- "three" (see tri-) + folium "leaf" (see folio).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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