1. A topic of discourse or discussion. See Synonyms at subject.
2. A subject of artistic representation.
3. An implicit or recurrent idea; a motif: a party with a tropical island theme.
4. A short composition assigned to a student as a writing exercise.
5. Music A recurring melodic element in a composition, especially a melody forming the basis of a set of variations.
a. See topic.
b. A stem.
[Middle English teme, theme, from Old French tesme, from Latin thema, from Greek; see dhē- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.