motive

1 of 3

noun

mo·​tive ˈmō-tiv How to pronounce motive (audio)
sense 2 is also
mō-ˈtēv How to pronounce motive (audio)
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
motiveless adjective
motivelessly adverb
motivic adjective

motive

2 of 3

adjective

mo·​tive ˈmō-tiv How to pronounce motive (audio)
1
: of or relating to motion or the causing of motion
motive energy
2
: moving or tending to move to action

motive

3 of 3

verb

mo·​tive ˈmō-tiv How to pronounce motive (audio)
motived; motiving
Choose the Right Synonym for motive

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.
Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
The indictment sheds little light on the motive for the assassination and how it was financed. Rachel Pannett, Washington Post, 20 Feb. 2024 Moreno acted alone, according to Finner, who also noted that the motive for the shooting is unknown. Bailey Richards, Peoplemag, 18 Feb. 2024 The motive may never be clear in this case, according to Finner. Ashley R. Williams, Jeanne Bonner and Raja Razek, CNN, 18 Feb. 2024 If my understanding of Shortz’s motives for hiring me was a paranoid misread—ungenerous to both of us—my premonitions about the demographics and ethos of puzzle-making were eventually confirmed. Anna Shechtman, The New Yorker, 18 Feb. 2024 The motive for the shooting, according to police, was that both victims were using a stick to smash a vehicle belonging to Matias-Calmo’s brother. Nate Gartrell, The Mercury News, 16 Feb. 2024 The Kansas City Police Department said three people had been detained and that officers were still trying to identify a motive. Bill Lukitsch, Kansas City Star, 14 Feb. 2024 The motive for the killings is still under investigation but detectives believe that Reed knew Glenn, White said. James Hartley, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 13 Feb. 2024 But a less honorable motive was to stage a debate so it could be hijacked by partisans who tried to play back-stage political games for the sport of it. Dean Minnich, Baltimore Sun, 10 Feb. 2024
Adjective
But Judge Jenny Rivera wondered if the behavior the women described cleared the high legal bar for allowing additional accusers to take the stand, namely that their testimony is evidence of same motive, opportunity, intent or a common scheme or plan. Michael R. Sisak, Fortune, 15 Feb. 2024 Weinstein’s lawyers argued Burke’s rulings went beyond what’s normally allowed—detailing motive, opportunity, intent or a common scheme or plan—and essentially put the ex-studio boss on trial for crimes he wasn’t charged with and hadn’t had an opportunity to defend himself against. TIME, 14 Feb. 2024 Investigators believe the incidents are related, but have not released details of a suspect or motive. Mark Price, Charlotte Observer, 9 Feb. 2024 No information was available about any suspect or motive. Martin Weil, Washington Post, 7 Feb. 2024 Details of a suspect and motive have not been released. Mark Price, Charlotte Observer, 26 Jan. 2024 No motive or suspect description were immediately available. City News Service, San Diego Union-Tribune, 26 Dec. 2023 No information was available about suspects or motive. Martin Weil, Washington Post, 13 Dec. 2023 The thorough investigation revealed that Barry Keenan, Joe Amsler and John Irwin conspired to kidnap Frank Jr., with their motive being as old as time: money. Corin Cesaric, Peoplemag, 8 Dec. 2023
Verb
Though these events were ultimately not in the final Netflix film, Berner explained that the research helped build an emotional through-line to shed light on what motived the creator. Jaden Thompson, Variety, 16 Feb. 2024 Police are investigating the circumstances and motive around the shooting and have not announced any arrests. Dallas News, 18 May 2022 The coming together of both aspects of his game has also led him to become more vocal on the court, both to keep himself motivated and to motive others. oregonlive, 5 Aug. 2020 Defense attorneys tried to get those allegations blocked by the court, but U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan ruled the allegations were relevant to whether campaign money was spent illegally and spoke to motive and intent. Arkansas Online, 2 Dec. 2019 Police did not immediately offer information as to motive or suspect description. Keri Blakinger, Houston Chronicle, 21 Jan. 2018 Of course, with all reports like this, speculation as to motive for such stories must be questioned. Mark Heim, AL.com, 12 Oct. 2017 My photography is first and foremost a catalyst or reason to motive human action. Olivier Laurent, Time, 30 June 2017 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near motive

Cite this Entry

“Motive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/motive. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

motive

1 of 2 noun
mo·​tive ˈmōt-iv How to pronounce motive (audio)
sense 2 is also
mō-ˈtēv How to pronounce motive (audio)
1
: something (as a need or desire) that leads or influences a person to do something
their motive in running away was to avoid trouble
2
: motif

motive

2 of 2 adjective
mo·​tive ˈmōt-iv How to pronounce motive (audio)
: of, relating to, or causing motion
motive power

Medical Definition

motive

noun
mo·​tive ˈmōt-iv How to pronounce motive (audio)
: something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act

Legal Definition

motive

noun
mo·​tive
: 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.

Etymology

Noun

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

More from Merriam-Webster on motive

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