in·​cen·​tive in-ˈsen-tiv How to pronounce incentive (audio)
: something that incites or has a tendency to incite to determination or action
incentive adjective
Choose the Right Synonym for incentive

motive, impulse, incentive, inducement, spur, goad mean a stimulus to action.

motive implies an emotion or desire operating on the will and causing it to act.

a motive for the crime

impulse suggests a driving power arising from personal temperament or constitution.

buying on impulse

incentive applies to an external influence (such as an expected reward) inciting to action.

a bonus was offered as an incentive

inducement suggests a motive prompted by the deliberate enticements or allurements of another.

offered a watch as an inducement to subscribe

spur applies to a motive that stimulates the faculties or increases energy or ardor.

fear was a spur to action

goad suggests a motive that keeps one going against one's will or desire.

thought insecurity a goad to worker efficiency

Examples of incentive in a Sentence

The rising cost of electricity provides a strong incentive to conserve energy. The government offers special tax incentives for entrepreneurs. The company is offering a special low price as an added incentive for new customers.
Recent Examples on the Web The introduction of a tax incentive for film and high-end TV would be a major boost for the German business, which faces competition from a swath of other European countries that offer generous breaks. Stewart Clarke, Deadline, 4 July 2024 Offices would need to comply with local employment and spending requirements to qualify for tax incentives. Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez, Fortune Asia, 3 July 2024 The prosecution of Baldwin and the film's tax incentive application both have financial implications for New Mexico taxpayers. CBS News, 3 July 2024 The incentive was introduced in April and was initially meant to end on June 30 as part of a push to boost sales. William Gavin, Quartz, 2 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for incentive 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'incentive.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Late Latin incentivum, from neuter of incentivus stimulating, from Latin, setting the tune, from incentus, past participle of incinere to play (a tune), from in- + canere to sing — more at chant

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of incentive was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near incentive

Cite this Entry

“Incentive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


in·​cen·​tive in-ˈsent-iv How to pronounce incentive (audio)
: something that makes a person try or work hard or harder

More from Merriam-Webster on incentive

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