In US English, is it acceptable to use the word 'motivate' in the following context?

We motivated the decisions regarding...

I believe that it is OK in South Africa but not in the UK.

  • 4
    No, in AmE, you can motivate people / animals / anything with free will, but not inanimate things, with the possible exception of mathematical arguments.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 3, 2015 at 10:23
  • 1
    The ODO 'US English' entry doesn't even mention the usage you mention, whereas their 'UK English' entry at least mentions the usage as being 'South African'. Jul 3, 2015 at 10:25
  • I am surprised to see this usage mentioned as specifically South-African. The phrase "motivate your answer" seems to be in use outside SA as well. I may well be influenced by the fact that in my native language, the cognate is used in this way as well. I am also doubting my long-standing interpretation of "motivation letter"...
    – oerkelens
    Jul 3, 2015 at 10:35
  • As a UK citizen, I read that as being a decision that 'someone' made, it seems implied in the sentence. And in that situation, you can motivate or influence a decision, however rather than the decision being the subject of said action, it is rather the entity making that decision. However I believe that in the form written, a decision making entity is implied
    – nickson104
    Jul 3, 2015 at 10:50
  • An interesting question - may I suggest that you edit it to include a reference for UK/South African usage - I think that @EdwinAshworth was referring to these: oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/motivate and oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/motivate.
    – Lucky
    Jul 3, 2015 at 12:09

2 Answers 2


No. You could say that you prompted the decision or that you influenced it.

  • 1
    Welcome to ELU, Reubend. Perhaps you could offer some authoritative support for your conclusion?
    – ScotM
    Jul 7, 2015 at 0:38
  • Apologies for my lack of sources. The Oxford English Dictionary includes this definition as 2.b: "S. Afr. To propose or request (something) and provide supporting documentation; to submit facts and arguments (in support of an argument, position, request, etc.)..." This is roughly in line with the example, where it's implied that arguments were made in support of the decision. However, the standard American usage leans toward this definition: 1.c: "trans. To provide (a person, etc.) with a motive or incentive to do something; to make (a person) motivated..."
    – Reubend
    Jul 7, 2015 at 3:43

No, I don't think so; I've never seen the word used that way in US English. We don't motivate inanimate objects/ ideas; motivation is a purely emotional thing here.

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