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[moh-tiv] /ˈmoʊ tɪv/
something that causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing, etc.; incentive.
the goal or object of a person's actions:
Her motive was revenge.
(in art, literature, and music) a motif.
causing, or tending to cause, motion.
pertaining to motion.
prompting to action.
constituting a motive or motives.
verb (used with object), motived, motiving.
to motivate.
Origin of motive
1325-75; (adj.) Middle English (< Middle French motif) < Medieval Latin mōtīvus serving to move, equivalent to Latin mōt(us) (past participle of movēre to move) + -īvus -ive; (noun) Middle English (< Middle French motif) < Medieval Latin mōtīvum, noun use of neuter of mōtīvus
Related forms
motiveless, adjective
motivelessly, adverb
motivelessness, noun
well-motived, adjective
1. motivation, incitement, stimulus, spur; influence, occasion, ground, cause. Motive, incentive, inducement apply to whatever moves one to action. Motive is, literally, something that moves a person; an inducement, something that leads a person on; an incentive, something that inspires a person. Motive is applied mainly to an inner urge that moves or prompts a person to action, though it may also apply to a contemplated result, the desire for which moves the person: His motive was a wish to be helpful. Inducement is never applied to an inner urge, and seldom to a goal: The pleasure of wielding authority may be an inducement to get ahead. It is used mainly of opportunities offered by the acceptance of certain conditions, whether these are offered by a second person or by the factors of the situation: The salary offered me was a great inducement. Incentive was once used of anything inspiring or stimulating the emotions or imagination: incentives to piety; it has retained of this its emotional connotations, but (rather like inducement ) is today applied only to something offered as a reward, and offered particularly to stimulate competitive activity: to create incentives for higher achievement. 2. See reason.


a combining form of motive:
automotive. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for motive
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • I could not see your object, but I was sure you had a motive.

    The White Mice Richard Harding Davis
  • A few years ago the motive power for most manufactures was steam.

    Diggers in the Earth Eva March Tappan
  • Here lies one motive why Ulysses must go to the palace and test Penelope.

    Homer's Odyssey Denton J. Snider
  • The motive for the westernizing policy is to get influence in European politics.

    Folkways William Graham Sumner
  • It would not do for your brother to vanish from your house, alone and with no motive.

    The Sleuth of St. James's Square Melville Davisson Post
British Dictionary definitions for motive


the reason for a certain course of action, whether conscious or unconscious
a variant of motif (sense 2)
of or causing motion or action: a motive force
of or acting as a motive; motivating
verb (transitive)
to motivate
Derived Forms
motiveless, adjective
motivelessly, adverb
motivelessness, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Old French motif, from Late Latin mōtīvus (adj) moving, from Latin mōtus, past participle of movēre to move
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for motive

mid-14c., "something brought forward," from Old French motif "will, drive, motivation," noun use of adjective, literally "moving," from Medieval Latin motivus "moving, impelling," from Latin motus "a moving, motion," past participle of movere "to move" (see move (v.)). Meaning "that which inwardly moves a person to behave a certain way" is from early 15c.


late 14c., from Old French motif "moving" or directly from Medieval Latin motivus "moving, impelling," from past participle stem of movere "to move" (see move (v.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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motive in Medicine

motive mo·tive (mō'tĭv)
An emotion, desire, physiological need, or similar impulse that acts as an incitement to action. Also called learned drive. adj.
Causing or able to cause motion.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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