Motive vs motif

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A motive is the reason for an action, the psychological force that propels someone to behave in a certain manner or to pursue a certain goal. Related words are motiveless, motivelessly, motivelessness, motivate, motivates, motivated, motivation. Motive comes from the Latin word motus meaning a moving motion. From the early 1400s, motive comes to signify that which moves a person to behave in a certain fashion.

A motif is a theme or idea that recurs as a pattern in an artistic work. Motifs occur in architecture, music, literature, fashion, etc. The word motif enters the English language in 1848, borrowing it from the French to mean dominant idea, theme.


Hours after the assault, the minister of public security, Gilad Erdan, said it was unclear if the motive was political, terrorist or criminal in nature. (The New York Times)

However, detectives cannot determine Herman DeRico’s motive for the murders, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. (The Portland Press Herald)

Saudi-led coalition against terrorism: Its meaning and motive (The Daily Sabah)

Nevada paper hints at motive for its purchase by Adelson (The Times of Israel)

A possible motive for the shooting remains under investigation. Further details on the incident, including what type of weapon was used, have not been disclosed. (The Greenfield Daily Reporter)

Wholesaler and retailer Wan Lee Brothers Sdn Bhd owner Lu Siew Kheng, 60, said her shop had sold almost all its stock of 12,000 pieces of 10 different decorative items featuring the monkey motif since the last week of December. (The Star)

If a motif on a piece of batik cloth can tell a story about its place of origin, each piece of batik Kudus shows centuries of history of acculturation. (The Jakarta Post)

The designs were pieced together, and now the stenciled work is the primary motif on the walls of the bride’s room and even in the room’s carpet. (The Herald Extra)