AskDefine | Define trefoil

Dictionary Definition



1 any of several Old World herbs of the genus Medicago having small flowers and trifoliate compound leaves [syn: medic, medick]
2 a plant of the genus Trifolium [syn: clover]
3 an architectural ornament in the form of three arcs arranged in a circle

User Contributed Dictionary



tri- + folium, leaf


  1. Any of several plants of the pea family, having compound, trifoliate leaves; especially one of the genus Trifolium.
  2. A symbol having the shape of such leaves, especially when used as an architectural ornament.



Extensive Definition

Trefoil (from Latin trifolium, "three-leaved plant", French trèfle, German Dreiblatt and Dreiblattbogen) is a graphic form composed of the outline of three overlapping rings used in architecture and Christian symbolism. The term is also applied to other symbols of three-fold shape.


Trefoil is a term in Gothic architecture given to the ornamental foliation or cusping introduced in the heads of window-lights, tracery, panellings, etc., in which the center takes the form of a three-lobed leaf (formed from three partially-overlapping circles). One of the earliest examples is in the plate tracery at Winchester (1222 - 1235). The fourfold version of an architectural trefoil is a quatrefoil.
A trefoil combined with an equilateral triangle was also a moderately common symbol of the Christian Trinity during the late Middle Ages in some parts of Europe. Two forms of this are shown below:
A dove, symbolic of the Holy Spirit, is sometimes depicted within the outlined form of the trefoil combined with a triangle.


The heraldic trefoil is a stylized clover. It should not be confused with the figure named in French heraldry tiercefeuille, which is a stylized flower with three petals. It differs from the heraldic trefoil in being not slipped. It could be translated as threefoil.



The green trefoil is registered under international trade-mark conventions as a symbol of Ireland. Shamrocks do not appear on Irish coins, bank-notes or postage stamps, as a rule.

Other meanings

External links


trefoil in German: Trefoil
trefoil in Swedish: treklöver
trefoil in Vietnamese: Hình ba lá

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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