what makes tick
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what makes (one) tick
The things that motivate someone; the reasons why a person behaves in a certain way. I'd love to sit you down for an interview and find out what makes you tick. Growing up hearing about her grandfather's heroic deeds in the war are a major part of what makes Janet tick.
what makes someone tick
Fig. something that motivates someone; something that makes someone behave in a certain way. (Fig. on what makes something tick.) William is sort of strange. I don't know what makes him tick. When you get to know people, you find out what makes them tick.
what makes something tick
Fig. the sense or mechanism that makes something run or function. (With reference to the ticking of a clock representing the functioning of the clock.) I don't know what makes it tick. I took apart the radio to find out what made it tick.