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1. a group of four musicians or singers

2. a piece of music for a quartet to perform

3. a group of four people or things

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

A borrowing from Italian, quartet was first used in English in the early 17th century with the meaning of a set of four lines in a sonnet. The musical meaning, which is now the most common one, was first used by the musicologist Charles Burney, father of the novelist Fanny, in 1773. Quartet was often spelled quartette, a spelling that survived into the 20th century.


Quartet refers both to a group of four musicians and to the music they play, so a string quartet might well play a string quartet by Haydn. Quartet is also used more loosely to refer to set of four people or things. When T S Eliot called his collection of poems ‘The Four Quartets‘ he was specifically evoking ideas of the musical form, but you can have a quartet of anything from musicians or dancers to negotiators or clowns, to take a few examples from the corpus. Restaurants sometimes offer quartets of cheeses or desserts. As with the term ‘medley‘, which is used in a similar way, they are suggesting (or perhaps just hoping) that the flavours will combine in a satisfying and harmonious way, as happens with their musical equivalents.


“A good quartet is like a good conversation among friends interacting to each other’s ideas.”
(Stan Getz)

“The Detroit String Quartet played Brahms last night. Brahms lost.”
(Bennett Cerf)

Related words

duo, octet, quintet, septet, sextet, trio

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.


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