motive

noun
mo·​tive | \ ˈmō-tiv, sense 2 is also mō-ˈtēv \

Definition of motive 

(Entry 1 of 3)

1 : something (such as a need or desire) that causes a person to act Revenge was the murderer's motive.
2 : a recurrent phrase or figure that is developed through the course of a musical composition
3 : motif the composition's recurring flute motive

motive

adjective
mo·​tive | \ ˈmō-tiv \

Definition of motive (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : of or relating to motion or the causing of motion motive energy
2 : moving or tending to move to action

motive

verb
mo·​tive | \ ˈmō-tiv \
motived; motiving

Definition of motive (Entry 3 of 3)

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from motive

Noun

motiveless \ -​ləs \ adjective
motivelessly adverb
motivic \ mō-​ˈtē-​vik \ adjective

Synonyms for motive

Synonyms: Noun

content, matter, motif, question, subject, theme, topic

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Choose the Right Synonym for motive

Noun

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 motive in a Sentence

Noun

Their motive in running away was to avoid being punished. I think he's guilty of the crime. He had the motive, the means, and the opportunity. She denied that her offer to help was based on selfish motives.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Authorities have made no arrests and have not released a possible motive. Max Cohen, Philly.com, "$1,000 reward offered for clues in death of South Jersey woman who was dismembered and burned," 11 July 2018 Investigators said nothing more about any suspect or suspects or any possible motive. CBS News, "Shooting in cemetery wounds 5 in San Francisco Bay area," 15 June 2018 And police interviews didn’t reveal a possible motive. Raisa Habersham, ajc, "New tip could lead to remains of woman missing more than 20 years," 5 June 2018 Police have not released any further information about the suspect believed to be inside the building or a possible motive. charlotteobserver, "Possible armed person barricaded in Charlotte psych building | Charlotte Observer," 25 Apr. 2018 Police have not released a possible motive in Kushner's death. Courtney Astolfi, cleveland.com, "Cleveland man accused of beating woman to death during burglary," 10 Apr. 2018 Anything that looks like love in Lanthimos’s worlds always comes with some kind of ulterior motive. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "The Favourite is a deliciously wicked tale of sex, women, and power plays," 21 Nov. 2018 Foulke said a motive behind the attack remains unclear. Todd Richmond And James Nord, Fox News, "Wisconsin workplace shooting suspect had revoked gun permit," 21 Sep. 2018 The motive remains unclear, but police have said it was preceded by an argument over tools. Lynn Horsley, kansascity, "Man critically wounded in Overland Park school playground shooting out of hospital," 11 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Two days after the shooting Micah Johnson found motive to ambush police office in Dallas during a peaceful protest. Mark Berman, Washington Post, "Baton Rouge police release video showing fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, plan to fire one officer," 30 Mar. 2018 Detectives have not motive or suspects in the killings. Michelle Hunter, NOLA.com, "Family to hold vigil Wednesday for Marrero double murder victim," 25 Oct. 2017 They were not identified, and no suspect or motive information was released. baltimoresun.com, "2 teens shot in Northeast Baltimore," 29 Aug. 2017 On the Transit, defective flexible coupling could cause separation of the drive shaft, cutting off motive power, causing the vehicle to move while parked or damaging surrounding parts. Nathan Bomey, USA TODAY, "Ford Transit recalled: Drive shaft defect costs $142 million," 28 June 2017 Dale’s absence and the threat of visitors in my home gave me motive and opportunity to clean. Gayle Carline, Orange County Register, "What a Day: It’s never too early for spring cleaning," 20 Jan. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Police did not immediately offer information as to motive or suspect description. Keri Blakinger, Houston Chronicle, "Man beaten, stabbed after argument in Alief," 21 Jan. 2018 Of course, with all reports like this, speculation as to motive for such stories must be questioned. Mark Heim, AL.com, "Penn State preparing for Texas A&M to make run at James Franklin, per report," 12 Oct. 2017 My photography is first and foremost a catalyst or reason to motive human action. Olivier Laurent, Time, "Why We Do It: Photographers and Photo Editors on the Passion That Drives Their Work," 30 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'motive.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of motive

Noun

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb

1657, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for motive

Noun

Middle English, from Anglo-French motif, motive, from motif, adjective, moving, from Medieval Latin motivus, from Latin motus, past participle of movēre to move

Adjective

Middle French or Medieval Latin; Middle French motif, from Medieval Latin motivus

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about motive

Statistics for motive

Last Updated

5 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for motive

The first known use of motive was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for motive

motive

noun

English Language Learners Definition of motive

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a reason for doing something

motive

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of motive (Entry 2 of 2)

: of, relating to, or causing motion

motive

noun
mo·​tive | \ ˈmō-tiv \

Kids Definition of motive

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a reason for doing something

motive

adjective

Kids Definition of motive (Entry 2 of 2)

: causing motion motive power

motive

noun
mo·​tive | \ ˈmōt-iv \

Medical Definition of motive 

: something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act

Keep scrolling for more

motive

noun
mo·​tive

Legal Definition of motive 

: something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act

Note: Motive is distinguished from intent or mens rea. Although motive is not an element of a crime, evidence of motive can be introduced to help establish intent.

History and Etymology for motive

Anglo-French motif, from Middle French motif adjective, moving, from Medieval Latin motivus, from Latin motus, past participle of movēre to move

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on motive

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with motive

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for motive

Spanish Central: Translation of motive

Nglish: Translation of motive for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of motive for Arabic Speakers

Comments on motive

What made you want to look up motive? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a person who helps groups work together

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Liar, Liar Quiz

  • alt-5761dbe2ba986
  • Someone who pretends to be sick in order to avoid work is a:
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!