[ sim-fuh-nee ]
/ ˈsɪm fə ni /
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See synonyms for: symphony / symphonies on Thesaurus.com

noun, plural sym·pho·nies.
  1. an elaborate instrumental composition in three or more movements, similar in form to a sonata but written for an orchestra and usually of far grander proportions and more varied elements.
  2. an instrumental passage occurring in a vocal composition, or between vocal movements in a composition.
  3. an instrumental piece, often in several movements, forming the overture to an opera or the like.
a concert performed by a symphony orchestra.
anything characterized by a harmonious combination of elements, especially an effective combination of colors.
harmony of sounds.
Archaic. agreement; concord.
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Origin of symphony

1250–1300; Middle English symfonye<Old French symphonie<Latin symphōnia concert <Greek symphōnía harmony. See sym-, -phony


pre·sym·pho·ny, noun, plural pre·sym·pho·nies.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What’s the difference between a symphony, an orchestra, and a philharmonic?

In popular use, symphony, orchestra, and philharmonic are often used interchangeably to refer to a large group of musicians assembled to play music, especially classical music.

The most common (and general) term is orchestra. Most large orchestras include many different instruments and classes of instruments, including strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

The word symphony primarily refers to a complex, multipart musical composition (like Beethoven’s fifth symphony), but it’s also a short way of referring to a symphony orchestra—a large orchestra, the kind that performs symphonies. (Smaller orchestras—those with about 25 people—are often called chamber orchestras). As a noun, the word philharmonic can refer to a symphony orchestra or to the organization that sponsors it (sometimes called a philharmonic society, in which philharmonic is used as an adjective). The word orchestra most commonly refers to the group of musicians, but it can also refer to the space reserved for them, usually the front part of the main floor (sometimes called the orchestra pit).

Both symphony and philharmonic are sometimes used in the names of orchestras, as in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Here’s an example of symphony, orchestra, and philharmonic used correctly in a sentence.

Example: I’ve attended performances of this symphony by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between symphony, orchestra, and philharmonic.

Quiz yourself on symphony vs. orchestra vs. philharmonic!

Should symphony, orchestra, or philharmonic be used in the following sentence?

Mozart composed this _____ in 1786.

How to use symphony in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for symphony

/ (ˈsɪmfənɪ) /

noun plural -nies

Derived forms of symphony

symphonic (sɪmˈfɒnɪk), adjectivesymphonically, adverb

Word Origin for symphony

C13: from Old French symphonie, from Latin symphōnia concord, concert, from Greek sumphōnia, from syn- + phōnē sound
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 symphony


An extended musical composition for orchestra in several movements, typically four. Among the composers especially known for their symphonies are Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Franz Josef Haydn, Gustav Mahler, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

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.