[ moh-tiv ]
/ ˈmoʊ tɪv /
Save This Word!
See synonyms for: motive / motives / motiveless on Thesaurus.com

verb (used with object), mo·tived, mo·tiv·ing.
There are grammar debates that never die; and the ones highlighted in the questions in this quiz are sure to rile everyone up once again. Do you know how to answer the questions that cause some of the greatest grammar debates?
Question 1 of 7
Which sentence is correct?

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

synonym study for motive

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.


mo·tive·less, adjectivemo·tive·less·ly, adverbmo·tive·less·ness, nounwell-motived, adjective

Other definitions for motive (2 of 2)


a combining form of motive: automotive.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does motive mean?

A motive is something that causes a person to act in a certain way, as in Luciana’s motive for studying was the F she got on the last exam.

A motive can also be the reward or benefit received for completing an action in a certain way or time, as in Yosef’s motive for signing up for the hike was to climb to the top of the mountain.

Motive can also describe something as relating to motion or movement, such as a motive engine. A common misuse of this form is auto motive. The term automotive comes from the term, but it is a standalone word, not a phrase.

Example: We need to identify a motive before we can continue investigating.

Where does motive come from?

The first records of the term motive come from the 1300s. It ultimately comes from the Medieval Latin mōtīvus, meaning “serving to move.” A motive serves to move something through motivation.

Motive is often used in criminal justice and crime drama, where the reason a crime has been committed is believed to help determine who committed the crime. A common trope in crime drama is the ulterior motive, that is, a hidden or secret motive. People are sometimes said to have ulterior motives when they do something nice or unexpected of them, even if it is bad, in order to gain some benefit that is hidden from view. We prefer to think if someone does something nice for us, their only motive is being nice.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to motive?

  • motiveless (adjective)
  • motivelessly (adverb)
  • motivelessness (noun)
  • well-motived (adjective)

What are some synonyms for motive?

What are some words that share a root or word element with motive

What are some words that often get used in discussing motive?

How is motive used in real life?

Motive is used in a variety of circumstances, from serious to casual.


Try using motive!

Which of the following is NOT a synonym for motive?

A. influence
B. obstacle
C. rationale
D. aim

How to use motive in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for motive

/ (ˈməʊtɪv) /

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

Derived forms of motive

motiveless, 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