See more synonyms for motive on
  1. something that causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing, etc.; incentive.
  2. the goal or object of a person's actions: Her motive was revenge.
  3. (in art, literature, and music) a motif.
  1. causing, or tending to cause, motion.
  2. pertaining to motion.
  3. prompting to action.
  4. constituting a motive or motives.
verb (used with object), mo·tived, mo·tiv·ing.
  1. 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 formsmo·tive·less, adjectivemo·tive·less·ly, adverbmo·tive·less·ness, nounwell-mo·tived, adjective

Synonyms for motive

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Synonym study

1. 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.


  1. a combining form of motive: automotive. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for motive

Contemporary Examples of motive

Historical Examples of motive

  • What other motive they can have, is to us, at least, inconceivable.

  • It is a fault in art because it is impossible to motive it in a few lines.

  • One can only motive and explain this suicide by self-immolating love.

  • Filial devotion to her father had been one motive, but not the only one.


    W. A. Fraser

  • In addition to this motive he felt an inclination to probe the matter to its utmost depths.


    W. A. Fraser

British Dictionary definitions for motive


  1. the reason for a certain course of action, whether conscious or unconscious
  2. a variant of motif (def. 2)
  1. of or causing motion or actiona motive force
  2. of or acting as a motive; motivating
verb (tr)
  1. to motivate
Derived Formsmotiveless, adjectivemotivelessly, adverbmotivelessness, noun

Word Origin for motive

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

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

motive in Medicine


  1. An emotion, desire, physiological need, or similar impulse that acts as an incitement to action.learned drive
  1. 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.