I knew the clue would reveal the man's motives, and possibly the answer to this mystery.

I knew the clue would reveal the man's motivations, and possibly the answer to this mystery.

Here's the Google definition for both:


  1. a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way. "escape can be a strong motivation for travel."


  1. a reason for doing something. "police were unable to establish a motive for his murder."

They sound pretty similar to me.

(By the way, should I use their singular form or plural form?)

  • Singular or plural depends on whether you want to communicate that the man had one or many motives, so there is no right or wrong here with respect to your examples. – fileunderwater Apr 2 '15 at 13:12
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    Idiomatically we almost never use the plural motivations in such contexts. Singular motivation is less common than motive, but is at least "acceptable" to native speakers. – FumbleFingers Apr 2 '15 at 13:32
  • I agree with FumbleFingers that motivation is idiomatically singular. The -tion suffix makes the word an abstraction. Compare locomotive versus locomotion. A locomotive moves from one place to another and locomotion is movement from one place to another. Thus, a motive moves a person to do something, and motivation refers to the process of being moved to do something. That's why motivation tends to be used in the singular-- it refers to the process. – TRomano Apr 2 '15 at 13:48
  • Here is the same question, with an answer. – Kimball Apr 2 '15 at 14:03

The "correct" one is "motives" - yet "motivations" isn't exactly wrong, just unexpected and unusual in the composition. Which might actually be worth going for, if you are going to explain deeper what motivates the man and not just the superficial motives.

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    I don't buy the idea that motivations are any "deeper" than motives. Sometimes there might be a stronger implication of internally arising, self-serving with motive (a motivation might feasibly be more of an external influence), but that's another story. – FumbleFingers Apr 2 '15 at 13:33
  • I was talking about a "deeper explanation", not a "deeper motive". Usually when the word "motive" is used in books and tv-shows, it is followed by a few superficial statements: "He stood to inherit; there is his motive.". So my suggestion was simply: If you are going to take the reader on deeper tour of WHY this guy ends up doing what he does, using "motivation" could be used as an subtle indication to the reader to expect something more than just a superficial listing. – thelogix Apr 15 '15 at 7:09

Motivation - the underlying reason for action


Motive - the specific reason for action

It's all in this page of

Handbook of Social Psychology By John DeLamater, Amanda Ward

In an important article in that opening issue, Perinbaaayagartt (1977) proposes a theory of the relationship between actor and motives. The tension has not yet been resolved.

Much of the tension between individual agency and social motivation is rooted in a disciplinary confusion about what a motive is, and what constitutes motivation at the most basic level. Sociology has long neglected the ideas of both motivation and motive, at least in some ways (see for example. Bruce & Wallis, l983; Campbell, 1990; Tamer, l987). Those who argue for the importance of motives emphasize their importance in social behavior. “Motives, both avowed and imputed are an important type of social phenomenon to be explained, since they function as social instruments that enable the speaker to influence others” (Wilmoth. l982. p. 244). Motives are distinct from rationales in that motives are meanings for behavior and rationales are reasons or justifications (Serow. I991). Rationales are more akin to vocabularies of motive, defined below.

The difference between motivation and motive is not precisely made within the field of sociology (see Smith & Preston, l984 for discussion). Motivation is generally understood as the underlying reason for action, and motive as the specific reason for action and/or is sometimes used to describe the presented linguistic account. The phrase vocabularies of motive refers exclusively to the presented linguistic account. Motives may or may not reveal insights into motivation, and actors may or may not have the self-awareness to understand why they do what they do (Smith & Preston). For example, if a person experiences thirst and then drinks, thirst could arguably be a motive. If a person's reason for responding to their feeling of thirst was a desire to respond to their needs broadly, this would he a motivation. If a person is asked why they drank and they say "I was thirsty” it is a vocabulary of motive. Or they might say “Everyone else was having a drink,“ a vocabulary of motive that does not match their true motivation or their motive.

BTW, actors = people involved

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  • its fine (even encouraged) to include links to support your answer, but you should copy the relevant portion here. – Barmar Apr 2 '15 at 18:02
  • I tried following the link. I got You have either reached a page that is unavailable for viewing or reached your viewing limit for this book – Barmar Apr 2 '15 at 18:03
  • @Barmar Can I attach an image on my PC to an answer, without uploading it to some server? – Marius Hancu Apr 2 '15 at 18:12
  • When you use the image tool, it gives you the choice of uploading a file or selecting a URL. – Barmar Apr 2 '15 at 18:14
  • @Barma I'm in the answer editing window. Click on ?, I'm getting "Images." Clicking "Images," I see only "Images are exactly like links, but they have an exclamation point in front of them," nothing on uploading. I'm on Firefox. – Marius Hancu Apr 2 '15 at 18:24

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