Easily Confused Words

Easily Confused Words: Motive vs. Motivation

Motive and motivation are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary, but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted, or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Motive (pronounced “moh-tihv”) is a noun. It means an attitude or basis for taking a specific course of action. In law enforcement, a key crime solving tactic is determining the motive for a murder, and from there, who possessed that motive.

Motivation (pronounced “moh-tih-veh-shun”) is a noun.

  • It means a state of being energized and focused in executing tasks or problems.
  • It can also mean the source or basis for a set of actions.
  • In live theater plays or movies, actors may ask “what’s my (character’s) motivation?” They ask this to get to know their character and that person’s outlook on life. They ask this so they can step in that character’s shoes more effectively and present them as realistically as possible.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Major had zero motivation to mow the lawn all summer long for his parents. So he did it, but in the most sloppy, unattractive manner. When his parents got home from work, they saw how horrible the lawn looked. His mom asked, “Why would you do such a bad job on our lawn? What’s your motive?”

“If I did a bad enough job, you wouldn’t ask me to do it again. Just hire a lawn crew like other, normal people do.”

“I can’t abide that attitude, son. Mowing lawns is a great way to make cash for your future. I think you should join a lawn crew. Not just learn how to mow a lawn correctly, but what a work ethic is. Your video game days are done for three months, and you’re getting a flip phone. No social media either.”

Major’s forehead hit the wall. This had really backfired. 



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