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  1. a subject of discourse, discussion, meditation, or composition; topic: The need for world peace was the theme of the meeting.
  2. a unifying or dominant idea, motif, etc., as in a work of art.
  3. a short, informal essay, especially a school composition.
  4. Music.
    1. a principal melodic subject in a musical composition.
    2. a short melodic subject from which variations are developed.
  5. 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).
  6. Linguistics. topic(def 4).
  7. Also thema. an administrative division of the Byzantine Empire.
  1. having a unifying theme: a theme restaurant decorated like a spaceship.
verb (used with object), themed, them·ing.
  1. 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 formstheme·less, adjectivesub·theme, noun

Synonyms for theme

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1. thesis, text. See subject. 3. paper. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for theme

Contemporary Examples of theme

Historical Examples of theme

  • I recur to it here as a plausible suggestion only, in connection with my theme.

    'Tis Sixty Years Since

    Charles Francis Adams

  • The theme was the same as that of Mr. Gladstone's letter, to which it was regarded as an answer.

    The Grand Old Man

    Richard B. Cook

  • A subject was offered him, in which no other poet would have found a theme for the Muse.

    Biographical Sketches

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • At the present moment it is to me the only theme worthy of a man's entire attention.

  • His eyes shone, and his face flushed with the fervor of his theme.

British Dictionary definitions for theme


  1. an idea or topic expanded in a discourse, discussion, etc
  2. (in literature, music, art, etc) a unifying idea, image, or motif, repeated or developed throughout a work
  3. music a group of notes forming a recognizable melodic unit, often used as the basis of the musical material in a composition
  4. a short essay, esp one set as an exercise for a student
  5. 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
  6. grammar another word for root 1 (def. 9), stem 1 (def. 9)
  7. (in the Byzantine Empire) a territorial unit consisting of several provinces under a military commander
  8. (modifier) planned or designed round one unifying subject, image, etca theme holiday
  1. (tr) to design, decorate, arrange, etc, in accordance with a theme
Derived Formsthemeless, adjective

Word Origin for theme

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

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

theme in Culture


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 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.