Do the following sentences mean the same? Is it OK to say violent crimes motivates offenders?

  1. Violent crimes in the media encourages criminals to commit crime.
  2. Violent crimes in the media motivates criminals to commit crime.

I feel 'motivate' has a sort of positive connotation and does not collocates with crime. For instance, we usually say: Higher salary motivates people to work harder. While coverage of violent crimes in the media gives criminals the courage to commit crime, it does not motivates them.

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    Compare Poor ventilation encourages mould, where no-one would ever use motivates (because non-sentient things and processes can be metaphorically "encouraged", but only "conscious agents" can normally be "motivated"). IMHO that makes motivates a poor choice for your context, even though strictly speaking it's perfectly valid. Using encourages slightly "dehumanises" the criminals (putting them more on a par with "mould"), which would usually be what any half-way decent writer would want to do in this context. May 17, 2021 at 13:58
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    Motivate just means 'provide with a motive' (a reason for doing something). It's quite normal to speak of the motive for a crime. May 17, 2021 at 14:09
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    I don't think it would be good to use motivate (a positive aspect) in a crime event (a negative aspect) even encourage somehow reflects the idea of a positive thing but its better to use none of them if I were you, I'd choose the word "push"... you know it reflects the idea of an involuntary negative assist to a dark and bad thing May 17, 2021 at 14:23

1 Answer 1


To motivate:

  1. To provide with an incentive or a reason for doing something; impel: What motivated you to get a new job? Their criticism is motivated by jealousy.
  2. To cause to be enthusiastic: The coach motivated his players with an inspiring pep talk.

To encourage:

  1. to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence.
  2. to stimulate by guidance, approval, etc.
  3. to promote; foster.

To motivate someone, you have to provide an incentive or a reason, so your second sentence uses "motivate" incorrectly. If an incentive is provided, you could use "motivate" or "encourage". For example,

To {motivate/encourage} its employees to get vaccinated for COVID, the company offered them $200 to offset any expenses.

If there is no incentive or no reason, you should not use "motivate". An example from FumbleFingers' comment:

Poor ventilation encourages mould. (here "encourage" means promotes or fosters, a meaning "motivate" doesn't have)

Looking at your example:

Violent crimes in the media *motivates criminals to commit crimes.

There is no explicit incentive or reason that media is giving a criminal to commit a crime more violent than they usually commit, so "motivates" doesn't express the correct meaning. Seeing lots of violent crime in the media might "encourage" more people to commit crimes because it seems like it is a normal thing to do, or because no-one seems to be getting caught, etc. but it's not giving them a specific reason to commit a crime. Here's another example:

The media glamorizing violent criminals may motivate some people to commit violent crime to become famous.

Here, there's a reason or incentive provided (the fame) so "motivate" is valid; the media might make someone famous if they commit these sorts of crimes, and fame is something that someone might want.

There is no positive or negative sense implicit in either word. You can "motivate" or "encourage" someone to do something bad or good.

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