Definition of motive in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈmōdiv/


1A reason for doing something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious: a motive for his murder
More example sentences
  • There's an ulterior motive behind everything they do.
  • When someone offers you help, must you seek out an ulterior motive behind the gesture?
  • The key ethical and legal point is the intention - the motive behind the act.
reason, motivation, motivating force, rationale, grounds, cause, basis, object, purpose, intention;
incentive, inducement, incitement, lure, inspiration, stimulus, stimulation, spur
2(In art, literature, or music) a motif: the entire work grows organically from the opening horn motive
More example sentences
  • Then think about the grail motive as a background to the Bruckner Adagio.
  • To cultivate this process, the student should become acquainted with the motive upon which the composition is based.
  • This is the predominant trichord of most sets and functions as a signature motive.
motif, theme, idea, concept, subject, topic, leitmotif


1Producing physical or mechanical motion: the charge of gas is the motive force for every piston stroke
More example sentences
  • The change of motion is proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the straight line in which that force is impressed.
  • With the invention of the internal combustion engine, in the late 19th century, new possibilities of motive force became available.
  • It may be powered by hand, pedal, or some other motive force such as a suitably geared lawn mower engine or the electric motor taken from a discarded washing machine.
kinetic, driving, impelling, propelling, propulsive, motor
2Causing or being the reason for something: the motive principle of a writer’s work
More example sentences
  • Its motive force is protection and care, but it does not give enough space to personal liberty.
  • Fascists themselves claimed that ultranationalism was their motive force, and that the realization of the mobilized national community was their goal.
  • Rather, it's the essential motive force for a technologically vibrant economy.



Pronunciation: /ˈmōdivləs/
Example sentences
  • A spokesman said: ‘This totally unprovoked and motiveless assault was a terrifying ordeal for the young man who had just finished work and was making his way home.’
  • He grabbed her by the shoulder and head-butted her in a motiveless and unprovoked attack.
  • He said: ‘This was a random and motiveless attack on a defenceless man.’


Pronunciation: /ˈmōdivləslē/
Example sentences
  • I want to spend a day with Peter and Cynthia walking motivelessly in random shopping places.
  • To pray and to worship God motivelessly is of course good.
  • She found it hard to write letters when he was walking about, sometimes watching the point of her pen, lifting a cup and putting it down again, reading a few paragraphs of the paper and dropping it listlessly, opening the cupboard door motivelessly and closing it again, lifting down books, peering behind them and letting them slip from his hands to the floor with a bang.


Example sentences
  • The premeditation before the killing, its viciousness, and its apparent motivelessness mark the serial killer as the personification of evil.
  • Not only does the film refuse to tell us, it glories in its own ignorance - or, to put it another way, in the motivelessness of its murders.
  • I was struck immediately by the motivelessness of publishing this picture.


Late Middle English: from Old French motif (adjective used as a noun), from late Latin motivus, from movere 'to move'.

Words that rhyme with motive

emotive, votive

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: mo·tive

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