[ in-sen-tiv ]
/ ɪnˈsɛn tɪv /


something that incites or tends to incite to action or greater effort, as a reward offered for increased productivity.


inciting, as to action; stimulating; provocative.

Nearby words

  1. incense tree,
  2. incense-tree,
  3. incensory,
  4. incent,
  5. incenter,
  6. incentive pay,
  7. incentive travel,
  8. incentively,
  9. incentivize,
  10. incept

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 forms

Synonym study

1. See motive. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for incentive

British Dictionary definitions for incentive


/ (ɪnˈsɛntɪv) /


a motivating influence; stimulus
  1. an additional payment made to employees as a means of increasing production
  2. (as modifier)an incentive scheme


serving to incite to action
Derived Formsincentively, adverb

Word Origin for incentive

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper