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

Example Sentences

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 Officials have been debating possible measures like tax incentives for generic drugmakers and greater transparency around generic drug quality. Christina Jewett, New York Times, 17 May 2023 For years, the government has offered incentives like monthly subsidies worth hundreds of dollars to families with children but has failed to adequately address the demographic crisis. Jin Yu Young,, 16 May 2023 And currently, there’s no incentive, barring unforeseen member expansion, for the World Wide Leader to re-negotiate terms. C.l. Brown, The Courier-Journal, 15 May 2023 The short answer is to avoid any incentive for a team to finish last. Brian Mahoney, Chron, 13 May 2023 Thompson-Wilson worries losing the incentive will exacerbate her difficulties finding staff. Savannah Tryens-fernandes |, al, 12 May 2023 While the New Orleans Saints did not disclose the terms of the deal, ESPN reported that Moreau's contract is for three years and worth $12 million, which includes $8 million guaranteed and $3 million in incentives. Kimberlee Speakman, Peoplemag, 11 May 2023 Some of the world’s most favorable tax incentives have helped propel business to historic heights. Kicking off in 2015, tax regs rose muscularly during mid-pandemic in 2020. Emiliano De Pablos, Variety, 10 May 2023 Production meets expected demand, with little incentive to creates surplus. Nishant Pandya, STAT, 8 May 2023 See More

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 29 May. 2023.

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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