mo·​tive | \ ˈmō-tiv How to pronounce motive (audio) , sense 2 is also mō-ˈtēv How to pronounce motive (audio) \

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


mo·​tive | \ ˈmō-tiv How to pronounce motive (audio) \

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


mo·​tive | \ ˈmō-tiv How to pronounce motive (audio) \
motived; motiving

Definition of motive (Entry 3 of 3)

Other Words from motive


motiveless \ ˈmō-​tiv-​ləs How to pronounce motive (audio) \ adjective
motivelessly adverb
motivic \ mō-​ˈtē-​vik How to pronounce motive (audio) \ adjective

Synonyms for motive

Synonyms: Noun

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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 Another motive suggested by the prosecution hinged on the Peterson family's tenuous financial situation. Amy Mackelden, Harper's BAZAAR, 16 May 2022 But when the shooter was identified as an Asian man, other questions arose as the investigation into the violence and the gunman’s motive continues. Amy Taxin And Deepa Bharath, Anchorage Daily News, 16 May 2022 Social media posts and a note left behind indicated an antisemitic motive. Jillian Peterson, Chron, 15 May 2022 Investigators had not initially believed that the salon shooting was a hate crime and the chief of police, Eddie Garcia, said earlier in the week that nothing indicated such a motive. New York Times, 13 May 2022 According to a Philadelphia Police Department news release which did not specify a motive, the shooting happened Monday afternoon. Tristan Balagtas,, 12 May 2022 Then there’s the horrifying motive behind his crimes. Maybelle Morgan,, 10 May 2022 LaLima added that the prosecutor's motive for the murder was flawed. Rebecca Rosenberg, Fox News, 9 May 2022 Federal law considers violent attacks against mass transit to be inherently terroristic, meaning prosecutors will not need to prove a particular ideological motive. Grayson Quay, The Week, 8 May 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective For Galor, this ultra-long-term perspective is the only way to separate out the motive forces of history from thousands of individually fascinating episodes. Washington Post, 29 Apr. 2022 The investigation is ongoing, the department said, and the motive unknown. Jori Epstein, USA TODAY, 15 Apr. 2022 Police did not provide any motive or suspect information for the latest shootings. Jessica Anderson,, 31 Jan. 2022 The motive, exact time of the shooting and exact number of guns used in the shooting are still being determined, Norman said. Meredith Deliso, ABC News, 27 Jan. 2022 Did the victim take reasonable and prudent steps to secure their property? Calling all malicious cyber activity an attack fails to address questions about motive, impact and security. Jim Richberg, Forbes, 5 Jan. 2022 No motive or additional details have been released. Carol Robinson |, al, 6 Jan. 2022 Details about the individual, motive and current status remain under investigation, South Korea’s military said. Dasl Yoon, WSJ, 2 Jan. 2022 The identity of the victim and her motive start off unclear, but as one mystery is revealed, another is introduced. David I. Klein,, 17 Nov. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: 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,, 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.

First Known Use of motive


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1657, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for motive


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


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

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Time Traveler for motive

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

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Dictionary Entries Near motive



motive power

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Last Updated

19 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Motive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for motive


mo·​tive | \ ˈmō-tiv How to pronounce motive (audio) \

Kids Definition of motive

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a reason for doing something



Kids Definition of motive (Entry 2 of 2)

: causing motion motive power


mo·​tive | \ ˈmōt-iv How to pronounce motive (audio) \

Medical Definition of motive

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



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

More from Merriam-Webster on motive

Nglish: Translation of motive for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of motive for Arabic Speakers


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