Difference Between Intention and Motive

Main Difference – Intention vs Motive

Intention and motive are two concepts that are closely connected with our actions. Intention is the aim or purpose of an action whereas motive is the reason behind an action. Although these two words are very similar in common parlance, there is a distinct difference between intention and motive in law. Intention refers to the thought behind your action – whether you intended to do a particular act or not. Motive refers to the reason behind the action. This is the main difference between intention and motive.

This article looks at,

1. What Does Intention Mean? – The Meaning, Usage, and Examples of the word Intention

2. What Does Motive Mean?- The Meaning, Usage, and Examples of the word Motive

3. Intention vs Motive in Legal Context

4. Difference Between Intention and Motive

Difference Between Intention and Motive - Intention vs Motive Comparison Summary

What Does Intention Mean

Intention is the aim or purpose of an action. The Oxford dictionary defines intention as “a thing intended; an aim or plan” whereas the Merriam-Webster defines it as a “the thing that you plan to do or achieve.” Most of our actions have an intention. But, we might also commit actions without intending to it. For example, a person might take a loaf of bread from the bakery and forget to pay. Here, he had no intention of stealing although he might be accused of it.  

The following sentences might help you to understand the meaning and usage of this noun better.

Creating problems was never my intention.

I bought some flowers with the intention of decorating the living room.

She gave him foolish advice, but her intention was good.

He had no intention to help the opposite party, but his actions resulted in their victory.

Difference Between Intention and Motive

We call an incident an accident or mistake if the action harms or disturbs someone, but without the intention to harm or disturb anyone.

What Does Motive Mean

Motive is the cause or reason behind our actions. Both Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries define motive as “a reason for doing something.” Everything we do have a motive. For example, we eat food to satisfy our hunger. So, the motive of eating is satisfying hunger. However, different people may have different motives for doing things. For example, Jeanne’s motive for going to school is to learn new things whereas her brother’s motive might be meeting friends.

The following sentences might help you to understand the meaning and usage of this noun better.

He was the main suspect because he had the motives, means, and opportunity to commit the crime.

There is an ulterior motive behind her every action.

The detectives were unable to establish a motive for her murder.

Their offer to help us was based on selfish motives.

Main Difference - Intention vs Motive

The detective was unable to find the motive behind the crime.

Intention vs motive in Legal Context

In law, intention and motive are considered as two different concepts. Let’s look at an example of a crime to understand the difference between these two concepts.


John robs a man to feed his family.

Here, robbing is the result of the intention to steal money. In criminal law, the intention is always bad and evil.

However, John’s motive is to feed his family. The motive can be good or evil. But motive is irrelevant is many cases. It is the intention that determines the criminal liability.

Difference Between Intention and Motive


Intention: Intention is the thing that you plan to do or achieve.

Motive: Motive is a reason for doing something.


Intention: Some action might not have an intention. (e.g., an accident)

Motive: Every action has some kind of motive.

Criminal law

Intention: Intention is a key element in determining the criminal liability.

Motive: Motive is considered irrelevant.

Image Courtesy:

“876597” (Public Domain) via 

“Handcuffed”  via 

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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