If you notice the subject of freedom coming up again and again in a book you're reading for English class, you can impress your teacher by calling it a leitmotif, or a theme that recurs.

The noun leitmotif is most useful for talking about music, and it usually comes up in the context of classical music, whenever a particular phrase or tune is repeated. The word comes from the German Leitmotiv, which literally means "lead motif," or "guiding motif." Though leitmotif makes music experts think of Wagner's operas when they hear it, it's been around at least since Mozart's time.

Definitions of leitmotif
  1. noun
    a melodic phrase that accompanies the reappearance of a person or situation (as in Wagner's operas)
    synonyms: leitmotiv
    see moresee less
    type of:
    air, line, melodic line, melodic phrase, melody, strain, tune
    a succession of notes forming a distinctive sequence
Word Family

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by Vocabulary.com’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 700+
  • Duration: 10 weeks
  • Time: 1 hour / week