or leit·mo·tiv

[ lahyt-moh-teef ]
See synonyms for leitmotif on Thesaurus.com
  1. a motif or theme associated throughout a music drama with a particular person, situation, or idea.

  2. a unifying or dominant motif; a recurrent theme: A leitmotif in science fiction is the evolving relationship between humans and machines.

Origin of leitmotif

First recorded in 1875–80; from German: “leading motive”

Words Nearby leitmotif

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use leitmotif in a sentence

  • In her direct and genuine nature there is a 'leitmotif' of pure sweet melody that will enrich the life of its discoverer.

    Bee and Butterfly | Lucy Foster Madison
  • And the "Wacht am Rhein" seemed to come and go at intervals, like a leitmotif to all their doings.

  • Like a leitmotif in a musical composition, this love of Dulwich College recurs again and again in his war letters.

  • Here is the leitmotif of the whole fascinating drama of infection and immunity.

    Preventable Diseases | Woods Hutchinson
  • He will come back, murmured Chavvy, in concordance with her leitmotif.

    Twos and Threes | G. B. Stern

British Dictionary definitions for leitmotif



/ (ˈlaɪtməʊˌtiːf) /

  1. music a recurring short melodic phrase or theme used, esp in Wagnerian music dramas, to suggest a character, thing, etc

  2. an often repeated word, phrase, image, or theme in a literary work

Origin of leitmotif

C19: from German leitmotiv leading motif

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

Cultural definitions for leitmotif


[ (leyet-moh-teef) ]

A frequently recurring bit of melody, usually in opera, associated with a person, thing, or emotion; Leitmotiv is German for “leading theme.” The leitmotif may be heard in the instrumental or the vocal part.

Notes for leitmotif

Leitmotifs are particularly associated with the operas of Richard Wagner.

Notes for leitmotif

Recurring themes or subjects in other forms of art or literature are sometimes also called leitmotifs.

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