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

Example Sentences

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
Police said that a motive is not known for the killings but it is believed to have been intentional. Nicholas Kerr, ABC News, 15 Oct. 2022 Few details are available at this time, and a motive for the vandalism is not yet known. Elizabeth Pritchett, Fox News, 9 Oct. 2022 No motive was identified, and the woman was later transported to hospital for an evaluation for emotional health concerns. cleveland, 7 Oct. 2022 No motive was known and police think there are no other suspects. Brian Dakss, CBS News, 26 Aug. 2022 No motive for the fight and subsequent stabbing had been released Wednesday morning. Jake Sheridan, Chicago Tribune, 24 Aug. 2022 However, as of the next day, no motive had been given. Martin Weil, Washington Post, 17 Aug. 2022 Police have not announced any arrests or a motive in the slaying. Carol Robinson | Crobinson@al.com, al, 1 Nov. 2022 Police were searching for the gunman or gunmen but didn't know anything about a motive. CBS News, 1 Nov. 2022
Adjective
Authorities did not disclose what motive Criss had for allegedly fatally shooting Bartron and Zito Jr. Antonio Planas, NBC News, 4 Nov. 2022 Authorities were investigating a motive Friday, Ford said. Ashley R. Williams, USA TODAY, 28 Oct. 2022 This can be followed by total loss of motive ability as the transmission clutches and drive gears disengage after 20 to 30 seconds, Hyundai's filing said. Jack Fitzgerald, Car and Driver, 15 Oct. 2022 Not motive has been announced and police are asking the public to call a hotline with any information. Danielle Wallace, Fox News, 20 Oct. 2022 Detectives are investigating the circumstances behind the homicide and working to identify a suspect and motive. Omari Daniels, Washington Post, 26 Aug. 2022 Electric motors assist the gasoline engine and are the sole motive source for the rear wheels, providing all-wheel-drive capability. Joe Lorio, Car and Driver, 23 Sep. 2022 There was little evidence to go on, no inkling of a motive and five people dead. Chicago Tribune, 22 Sep. 2022 The motive and suspect or suspects are unknown, police said. Antonio Planas, NBC News, 17 Sep. 2022
Verb
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 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.

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 26 Nov. 2022.

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.

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

More from Merriam-Webster on motive

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