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The definition of incite in dictionaries is to cause (someone) to act in an angry, harmful, or violent way, however, I came across this phrase which I think the usage of incite is wrong. I want to know the meaning of this word from a native speaker perspective in this context.

With a little extra push, solar power could become a cheaper energy source, thus inciting pollution-causing petroleum industries to shift their focus to the renewable energy sector.

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I would agree - incite carries a negative connotation, in that it can mean to cause an angry, harmful, or violent action or feeling, and as such, doesn't seem to fit your example.

A possibly more suitable alternative in your scenario is entice - to attract (someone) especially by offering or showing something that is appealing, interesting, etc - the incentive in this case being cheaper energy. For example:

With a little extra push, solar power could become a cheaper energy source, thus enticing pollution-causing petroleum industries to shift their focus to the renewable energy sector.

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I disagree. Technically, Incite only carries the idea of to urge or spur on, to instigate, stimulate. One can be incited to do something, and it is this action that is incited that carries positive or negative connotations. I must point out that I am an older native speaker, and so my language is more conservative. Perhaps younger speakers think of incite more with its negative connotations!

Because 'incite' is more commonly used these days with negative actions — 'incite to riot' for example — there has been a tendency to regard the word itself as having a negative sense.

This is exactly how language changes! Shades of meaning that become attached to a word — whether rightly or wrongly — eventually become part of that word.

A classic example from the past is 'silly' -- the word originally was 'selig', and meant 'blessed', but a person who was blessed often behaves in a strange or unusual — or silly — way, and this modern meaning has completely replaced the older sense.

The word 'entice' seems too passive for this example — you need a word that carries more of a sense of 'pushing'.

With a little extra push, solar power could become a cheaper energy source, thus forcing pollution-causing petroleum industries to shift their focus to the renewable energy sector.

or, even better

With a little extra push, solar power could become a cheaper energy source, thus encouraging pollution-causing petroleum industries to shift their focus to the renewable energy sector.

(Sorry — I was going to add this as a comment, but it was too long!)

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    Thanks for your answer. I think it would better to use vocabulary by considering its recent meanings. As you said, language changes so we should adopt these changes. – Sam Jan 24 '17 at 16:35
  • While the origin of the word might be grounded in the idea to spur something on, it's not just a case of this being a 'young person's interpretation' of the word - every dictionary I can see associates the word with underhandedness or evil intent, e.g. en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/incite , merriam-webster.com/dictionary/incite , ldoceonline.com/dictionary/incite . Whatever the origin of he word, modern day usage carries a negative connotation. – mike Jan 25 '17 at 0:21
  • I'm also curious as to why you feel that encourage carries a stronger sense of 'pushing' than entice - fro me they carry the same weight in terms of their ability to spur something on. In fact, entice carries a sense of actively highlighting the reward factor of a course of action. Not trying to pick holes in your suggestions - just genuinely curious. – mike Jan 25 '17 at 0:26
  • You're right -- 'encourage' doesn't carry a sense of push, but it is more positive than entice, which (to me) is often used in the sense of to entice a person into something they probably would/should not wish to do -- such as to 'entice into a trap'. 'Encourage' (to me) means to urge/lead someone into something they (or someone else) will benefit positively from. As for the reward factor in 'entice', true, but that reward (or the act done to achieve it) often has bad overtones. When I suggested 'encourage', I had moved beyond the sense of 'push' towards something totally positive. – Warren Ham Jan 26 '17 at 0:15
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Not a linguistics expert but "encourage" makes someone want to do it by themselves and can thus be thought of as a push. "Entice" is alluring or attracting which is definitely a pull.

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