The words 'motive and motivation'


Do you think that 'motive and motivation' are interchangeable for the same meaning? Thank you so much in advance and take good care.

asked Jan 28 '13 at 02:02 Hans Contributor

1 answer


Motive means a reason for doing something, and motivation means a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.  Those definitions are quite similar, and some English speakers sometimes use the words interchangeably, but if you look closely at the wording, doing something focuses on one specific act, whereas acting or behaving in a particular way focuses on a more general pattern of action or behavior.


Let's look at a few example sentences:


Her motive for killing her husband was that he had abused her for years.  Murder is a specific act; motivation would not fit in this sentence.


Getting a good Christmas bonus is a strong motivation for employee diligence throughout the year. Diligence is a pattern of action/behavior, not one specific act; motive would not fit.


My motive for asking her to stay behind after everyone else left was that I wanted to ask her out on a date.  Asking someone out on a date is a specific act; motivation would not fit.


Little Johnny was always misbehaving in class and having to serve detention in the classroom during the lunch hour.  The school psychologist eventually realized that the motivation for his constant misbehavior was to avoid being bullied by the older boys on the schoolyard during the lunch hour recess.  Avoiding being bullied by always misbehaving is a pattern of action/behavior; motive would not fit.


I have included both positive and negative examples for motive and motivation.  Some people, especially those who watch a lot of crime dramas on TV, think that a motive must explain a negative action and motivation a positive one, but that is too simplistic.  Both words can be used in either a negative or a positive sense. 


ExceptionMotivation is also often used to generally describe extrinsic or intrinsic sources of energy, incentive, or encouragement necessary for beginning or sustaining hard work.  I can't seem to finish this report.  I need some motivation.  This is a variation on the definition of motivation above, and it is always a positive, good thing.  Motive cannot be used for this meaning, even though finishing a report is a specific act.  When motivation is  used in this general sense and referred to by its absence (I have no motivation; I need some motivation), motive cannot be used in its place.  


I hope this helps.   

link comment edited Jan 28 '13 at 03:16 Shawn Mooney Expert

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