Grammar Hammer: Incent, Incentive, Incentivize

2 min read · 7 years ago


the Grammar Hammer

A classic marketing tactic is to create a promotion that gives potential customers an incentive to buy. Almost every advertisement for a new car includes incentives for trading in your old one, or having the dealership do your taxes and double your refund to use as your down payment. One highly-publicized example of “incentive marketing” is Chipotle Mexican Grill’s recently held promotion to give away a free burrito with every tofu entree purchased. Even though many of Chipotle’s customers are meat-lovers, they were given an incentive to try a vegetarian option.

I want to examine the history of the word “incentivize.” At first, I thought it was merely our modern habit of taking a noun, adding “-ize” to the end of it and coming up with a new verb (for example, woman + ize = womanize). Language is always evolving and I thought “incentivize” was a flashy way of saying “motivate” or “encourage.”

I also didn’t really think “to incent” was a proper verb. To me, it sounds too similar to “incite” and I don’t think managers want to “incite” their employees. Both “incent” and “incentivize” are now recognized in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, so even though these sound like non-words to me, they’re here to stay.

There is one important distinction between “incent/incentivize” and “encourage/motivate.” Incentives are rewards used when the target audience isn’t propelled into action without the incentive. Encouraging them and motivating them is part of good leadership and doesn’t require a carrot at the end of a stick.

I can accept the fact that “incentivize” is a word and will likely see its use increase, but I can also decide that in my own writing, I will find another word. If I am trying to motivate or encourage my team by offering them a perk or reward, it’s an incentive. I do not intend to incite or incent them.

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Grammar Hammer: Incent, Incentive, Incentivize

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