what makes tick
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what makes (one) tick
The things that motivate one or make one behave in a certain way. I'd love to sit you down for an interview so I can find out what makes you tick. Janet is a very private person, so it's hard to know what makes her tick.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
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.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.