In this paper, a three-dimensional semi-idealized model for tidal motion in a tidal estuary of arbitrary shape and bathymetry is presented. This model aims at bridging the gap between idealized and complex models. The vertical profiles of the velocities are obtained analytically in terms of the first-order and the second-order partial derivatives of surface elevation, which itself follows from an elliptic partial differential equation. The surface elevation is computed numerically using the finite element method and its partial derivatives are obtained using various methods. The newly developed semi-idealized model allows for a systematic investigation of the influence of geometry and bathymetry on the tidal motion which was not possible in previously developed idealized models. The new model also retains the flexibility and computational efficiency of previous idealized models, essential for sensitivity analysis. As a first step, the accuracy of the semi-idealized model is investigated. To this end, an extensive comparison is made between the model results of the semi-idealized model and two other idealized models: a width-averaged model and a three-dimensional idealized model. Finally, the semi-idealized model is used to understand the influence of local geometrical effects on the tidal motion in the Ems estuary. The model shows that local convergence and meandering effects can have a significant influence on the tidal motion. Finally, the model is applied to the Ems estuary. The model results agree well with observations and results from a complex numerical model.