Motif vs. Motive

Updated Jan 7, 2023

What are the differences between motif and motive?

Motif is a recurring theme or subject that appears throughout a work of literature, music, or art. It is often used to develop ideas or to convey messages to the audience. For example, "The motif of love and loss is prevalent throughout the novel, making it a powerful and emotional story."

Motive, on the other hand, is a person's reason for doing something. It is often used to explain why someone acted a certain way. For example, "His motive for stealing the money was to pay off his debts."

Why do people commonly confuse motif and motive?

People commonly confuse motif and motive because they have similar definitions and are often used in the same context. A motif is a recurring element or idea in a work of art, literature, or music, while a motive is a reason or intention that prompts someone to act in a certain way. They both refer to something that provides the basis for a story or a larger theme, which can make it easy to mix them up.

What are some ways to make sure you don't confuse motif and motive?

  1. Memorize the definitions of motif and motive. Motif is a recurrent element in a work of literature or a recurring idea, while motive is something that causes a person to act or think in a certain way.

  2. Use sentence structure to differentiate between the two. For example, you could say “The motif of revenge was a central theme in the play” or “The motive for his actions was revenge.”

  3. Construct a sentence that uses both words. For example, “The revenge motive was reflected in the recurrent motif of revenge.”

  4. Make a list of example sentences with both words in them. This will help you become more familiar with the differences between the two words and make it easier to avoid confusion.

  5. Read your work aloud. This will help you catch any potential errors in the usage of the words.

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