Let's say group X developed a program (or club, business, group, etc.) given some underlying motivation. The program was successful thus affirming said motivation.

I'm curious: can the more concise 1st sentence below properly stand in for the longer yet more explicit 2nd sentence?

  • Affirming the program's motivation, the data suggest...

  • Affirming the motivation of the program's developers, the data suggest...

The broader question is if the word motivation which is properly possessed by the development group and not the program itself can be written in the format of the first sentence due to the implicit assumption that a non-sentient program itself could not have motivation and therefore the sentence is simply condensing the phrase "motivation for the program" into "program's motivation."

Follow-up: what is the grammatical name/rule that references this type of usage?

  • The program has no motivation. If you mean the program motivates the user, okay, no stranger than saying it's not user-friendly. Barely a metaphor, let alone a personification. Aug 5 at 14:57
  • It's not uncommon to ascribe traits of the designers of a device or computer program to the device/program itself. It's acting as their proxy.
    – Barmar
    Aug 5 at 18:29
  • @Barmar I agree this is common in casual speech, but I was wondering if doing so was grammatically ok. Aug 5 at 19:24
  • Grammar has nothing to do with things like this. Grammar is about the structure, not the meaning.
    – Barmar
    Aug 5 at 19:25

1 Answer 1


I guess you are questioning whether "motivation" can be attached to an action or entity, as well as to a human being.

Lexico has as examples for "motivation":

On the other hand, is it wrong to suspect that the ad campaign might have political motivations as well?

It is also essential to understand the reasons and motivations behind such behaviours and cultural norms.

The motivation for this rationalisation is, however, the serious fiscal crisis in the health care system.

It's clear that an action or creation can be ascribed a motivation, i.e. the reason for which it is done or created. In these examples, motivation is ascribed to an advertising campaign, unspecified behaviours and cultural norms, and rationalisation (cutbacks/sackings).

Reference: "Motivation", Lexico (UK English), accessed August 5, 2022.

  • 1
    The last case refers to rationalizations of people, so I don't think it's an example of anthropomorphizing the source of the motivation.
    – Barmar
    Aug 5 at 18:27

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