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  1. something that incites or tends to incite to action or greater effort, as a reward offered for increased productivity.
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  1. inciting, as to action; stimulating; provocative.
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Origin of incentive

1400–50; late Middle English < Late Latin incentīvus provocative, Latin: setting the tune, equivalent to incent(us) (past participle of incinere to play (an instrument, tunes); in- in-2 + -cinere, combining form of canere to sing) + -īvus -ive
Related formsin·cen·tive·ly, adverbcoun·ter·in·cen·tive, nounnon·in·cen·tive, adjectivepre·in·cen·tive, nounsu·per·in·cen·tive, noun, adjective


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Synonym study

1. See motive.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for incentive


  1. a motivating influence; stimulus
    1. an additional payment made to employees as a means of increasing production
    2. (as modifier)an incentive scheme
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  1. serving to incite to action
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Derived Formsincentively, adverb

Word Origin

C15: from Late Latin incentīvus (adj), from Latin: striking up, setting the tune, from incinere to sing, from in- ² + canere to sing
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

Word Origin and History for incentive


early 15c., from Late Latin incentivum, noun use of neuter of Latin adjective incentivus "setting the tune" (in Late Latin "inciting"), from past participle stem of incinere "strike up," from in- "in, into" (see in- (2)) + canere "sing" (see chant (v.)). Sense influenced by association with incendere "to kindle." The adjective use, in reference to a system of rewards meant to encourage harder work, first attested 1943 in jargon of the U.S. war economy; as a noun, in this sense, from 1948.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper