Definition of motive in English:



  • 1A reason for doing something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious.

    ‘a motive for his murder’
    • ‘There was little attempt to disguise the political motives behind the move.’
    • ‘Detectives are hoping to establish the motive for the murder attempt in the coming days, and will examine the possibility that it may have been drug related.’
    • ‘Police believe robbery was the motive for the attack.’
    • ‘Detectives said yesterday that they had not yet established a motive for the double murder, but believed it might have been linked to a domestic dispute.’
    • ‘Police have also been carrying out door-to-door inquiries to establish a motive for the murder.’
    • ‘From this side of the Atlantic, the motives behind this action appear far more self-serving.’
    • ‘And we tell ourselves that it's all right, that for us it's different, that we have an excuse, a reason, a motive.’
    • ‘Either his motive alone was sufficient reason to suspect him, or it wasn't.’
    • ‘There's an ulterior motive behind everything they do.’
    • ‘Mr Locke asks why people are questioning his motives, and the reason is that we have studied him.’
    • ‘There is a difference between a reason and a motive.’
    • ‘Of course there are other possible motives for murder besides a disagreement over business matters.’
    • ‘When someone offers you help, must you seek out an ulterior motive behind the gesture?’
    • ‘More than a month on, police are no closer to finding his killer, or establishing a motive for the murder.’
    • ‘Details were released as detectives confirmed they now believe there was a sexual motive behind the girl's kidnap and murder.’
    • ‘I confess to having an inherent mistrust of the motives behind the development of GM crops and foods.’
    • ‘Richardson said that detectives were keeping an open mind about the possible motive for the triple murder.’
    • ‘In addition to your total lack of evidence, you are unable even to establish a reasonable motive.’
    • ‘Normally I am very careful before I ascribe such sinister motives to a government agency.’
    • ‘He says he doesn't know what motives could be behind the leak.’
    • ‘The key ethical and legal point is the intention - the motive behind the act.’
    reason, motivation, motivating force, rationale, grounds, cause, basis, occasion, thinking, the whys and wherefores, object, purpose, intention, design
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  • 2(in art, literature, or music) a motif.

    ‘the entire work grows organically from the opening horn motive’
    • ‘To cultivate this process, the student should become acquainted with the motive upon which the composition is based.’
    • ‘The first movement's contours, both its main motive and its overall shape, do suggest climbing.’
    • ‘It's my favourite time of year and I wanted to evoke the coolness and crispness, especially in the opening motive.’
    • ‘For ten minutes, the bass methodically pounds the opening motive into the ground with rigor and exactitude.’
    • ‘My other quibble is that the vigorous minor-mode motive of repeated notes isn't bowed roughly enough.’
    • ‘The introduction is based on a short six-note motive that is treated canonically, first in single notes and then in double notes.’
    • ‘The harmonic and rhythmic tension in this motive is palpable.’
    • ‘Then think about the grail motive as a background to the Bruckner Adagio.’
    • ‘This three-note motive can subsequently be detected in almost every bar of the piece, giving it a high degree of unity.’
    • ‘In its most common meaning, the term idea is used as a synonym for theme, melody, phrase or motive.’
    • ‘This is the predominant trichord of most sets and functions as a signature motive.’
    motif, theme, idea, concept, subject, topic, leitmotif, trope, element
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  • 1Producing physical or mechanical motion.

    ‘the charge of gas is the motive force for every piston stroke’
    • ‘The motive force is supplied by sodium or hydrogen ions flowing down a concentration gradient from the outside.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘These flying triangles aren't ready to bear the weight of their own motive energy source.’
    • ‘With the invention of the internal combustion engine, in the late 19th century, new possibilities of motive force became available.’
    • ‘As a consequence, the question of whether the new industry should continue to use gasoline as its motive fuel arose.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Wind turbines, also known as wind mills, use the wind as their motive force.’
    • ‘Horses continued to provide the main motive force for commercial uses of the plateau such as grazing until the recent past.’
    kinetic, driving, impelling, propelling, propulsive, operative, moving, motor
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  • 2Causing or being the reason for something.

    ‘the motive principle of a writer's work’
    • ‘Rather, it's the essential motive force for a technologically vibrant economy.’
    • ‘Fascists themselves claimed that ultranationalism was their motive force, and that the realization of the mobilized national community was their goal.’
    • ‘Looking back now, it seems to me that nothing has changed and that it was only a matter of days before profit was re-established as the system's principal motive force.’
    • ‘It serves as a kind of a triggering mechanism, a motive force of military ideology.’
    • ‘The driving motive force behind any country's sense of achievement and pride in its efforts must come from a focus on entrepreneurship.’
    • ‘Its motive force is protection and care, but it does not give enough space to personal liberty.’
    • ‘While putatively providing the motive force for Mundy's actions, the anger finally overreaches itself.’
    • ‘I think that's part of the motive force for this research, because of the great freedom that children express in their faith.’
    • ‘It is not a part of the real motive forces of the revolution.’
    • ‘They sought to uncover the motive force of the class struggle - the key to the real understanding of all history.’
    • ‘Feelings are important because they provide the motive force for thinking and acting.’
    • ‘Nationalist feeling was a far more powerful motive force in China than social radicalism.’


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