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Motif vs. Motive: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed & Dua Fatima || Updated on March 3, 2024
A motif is a recurring element in art or literature, while a motive is a reason for doing something.
Motif vs. Motive

Key Differences

A motif in literature, art, or music refers to a recurring theme, symbol, or element that has significance to the story or piece. It often symbolizes a critical aspect of the narrative or theme, providing depth and enhancing the audience's understanding. On the other hand, a motive is the driving force or reason behind an individual's actions or behavior, often explored in psychological, criminal, or literary analysis to explain why characters behave in certain ways.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024
Motifs are used to reinforce and enrich the narrative or thematic structure of a creative work, motives delve into the psychological aspects of characters, offering insights into their desires, fears, or ethical convictions. Motifs can appear as visual elements, phrases, or structural patterns, contributing to the work's atmosphere and thematic coherence. In contrast, motives are deeply tied to character development and plot progression, often serving as a key factor in unraveling mysteries or understanding character motivations.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Mar 03, 2024
Motifs are often symbolic, carrying meanings that transcend their literal appearance in the work. They can be used to suggest themes, moods, or various other aspects of the work without direct statement. Motives, however, are explicitly connected to the goals or psychological states of characters, providing a basis for understanding their decisions and actions within the narrative.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024
In analyzing literature or art, identifying motifs can reveal the underlying messages or themes the creator wishes to convey, as they are intentionally repeated to invoke reflection or emotional response. Whereas, analyzing motives requires a look into the backstory, personality, or circumstances influencing a character's decisions, highlighting the complexities of human behavior and ethics.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024
Motifs and motives, though different in their application and purpose, both play crucial roles in adding layers of meaning to creative works. While motifs enrich the narrative or thematic fabric, motives offer a window into the inner workings of characters, both serving to deepen the audience's engagement and understanding of the work.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024
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Comparison Chart

Definition

Recurring theme, symbol, or element
Reason behind an action or behavior
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024

Context

Literature, art, music
Psychology, literature, crime analysis
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Mar 03, 2024

Purpose

Enhance thematic or narrative structure
Explain behavior or actions
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024

Examples

Repeated imagery of darkness in a novel
A character's revenge for betrayal
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Mar 03, 2024

Symbolism

Often symbolic, adding deeper meaning
Directly tied to character's goals
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024
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Motif and Motive Definitions

Motif

Recurring element.
The motif of water in the novel symbolizes renewal.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024

Motive

Psychological reason.
His motive for the crime was jealousy.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 03, 2024

Motif

Structural pattern.
The motif of three in fairy tales often signifies a trial and triumph.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024

Motive

Ethical conviction.
A sense of justice served as the detective's motive.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024

Motif

Visual symbol.
The motif of birds throughout the film symbolized freedom.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 03, 2024
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Motive

Driving force.
Love was her motive for helping him.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Mar 03, 2024

Motif

Symbolic theme.
The green light is a recurring motif in The Great Gatsby, representing unattainable dreams.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024

Motive

Desire or fear.
Fear of failure motivated his relentless work.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024

Motif

Literary device.
Shakespeare often used the motif of mistaken identity for comedic effect.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Mar 03, 2024

Motive

Goal-oriented reason.
Her motive for studying hard was to get into a good university.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Mar 03, 2024

Motif

A recurring or dominant element; an artistic theme.
See how the artist repeats the scroll motif throughout the work?
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motive

An emotion, desire, physiological need, or similar impulse that acts as an incitement to action.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motif

A decorative figure that is repeated in a design or pattern.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motive

Causing or able to cause motion
Motive power.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motif

A recurrent thematic element in an artistic or literary work.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motive

(obsolete) An idea or communication that makes one want to act, especially from spiritual sources; a divine prompting.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motif

A dominant theme or central idea.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motive

The theme or subject; a leading phrase or passage which is reproduced and varied through the course of a comor a movement; a short figure, or melodic germ, out of which a whole movement is develpoed. See also Leading motive, under Leading.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motif

(Music) A short rhythmic or melodic passage that is repeated or evoked in various parts of a composition.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motive

Causing motion; having power to move, or tending to move; as, a motive argument; motive power.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motif

A repeated figure or design in architecture or decoration.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motif

A theme that is elaborated on in a piece of music
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Motif

A unifying idea that is a recurrent element in a literary or artistic work;
It was the usual `boy gets girl' theme
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Repeatedly Asked Queries

Can a motif be a symbol?

Yes, motifs often serve as symbols, carrying deeper meanings beyond their literal appearance in the work.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024

Is a motif only found in literature?

No, motifs can be found in literature, art, and music, serving to enhance the thematic or atmospheric aspects of the work.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Mar 03, 2024

How does a motive differ from a motif?

A motive is the reason behind an action or behavior, while a motif is a recurring element that enriches the narrative or thematic content.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Mar 03, 2024

What role does a motive play in character analysis?

A motive provides insight into a character's decisions and actions, revealing their psychological state or ethical convictions.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 03, 2024

Can motives be analyzed in art?

While motives are primarily associated with actions and behaviors in literature and psychology, the concept can be applied to the motivations behind artistic creation.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024

What is a motif in literature?

A motif is a recurring theme, symbol, or element that emphasizes the narrative or thematic aspects of the literature.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Mar 03, 2024

How does identifying motifs benefit the understanding of a work?

Identifying motifs helps uncover underlying messages or themes, enhancing the audience's appreciation and interpretation of the work.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024

What makes a motive significant in storytelling?

Motives are significant because they provide depth to characters, making their actions more understandable and relatable.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Mar 03, 2024

Can the same element be both a motif and a motive?

While unusual, an element could serve as a motif in its repetition and symbolic meaning, and as a motive if it directly influences a character's actions.
Hifza Nasir
Hifza Nasir
Mar 03, 2024

How do motifs contribute to the atmosphere of a work?

Motifs contribute to the atmosphere by repeatedly invoking certain feelings or moods through their symbolic presence.
Dua Fatima
Dua Fatima
Mar 03, 2024

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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.
Dua Fatima
Co-written by
Dua Fatima

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