im·​pet·​u·​ous im-ˈpe-chᵊ-wəs How to pronounce impetuous (audio)
: marked by impulsive vehemence or passion
an impetuous temperament
: marked by force and violence of movement or action
an impetuous wind
impetuously adverb
impetuousness noun

Did you know?

When we borrowed impetuous in the late 14th century, we used it of people and their actions. About a hundred years later, we added another sense to describe physical things like wind or storms or seas—this second sense we don't use much anymore. The word comes via Anglo-French from Late Latin impetuosus, which is from impetus. Latin impetus (which of course gave us our own impetus, meaning "driving force") essentially means "assault," but it also has figurative senses ranging from "violence" to "ardor." Our impetuous has a similar range of meaning, from "violent" to "passionate." It also carries the suggestion of impulsiveness. Often, we put a light touch on the word, as when we refer—somewhat longingly, perhaps—to our "impetuous youth."

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What, and Who, Gets Described as Impetuous

Impetuous is often applied to various kinds of behavior, and to the people who exhibit that behavior. Impetuous behavior is often impulsive behavior: the impetuous among us act without thinking long and hard about the consequences of their actions. They are rash and reckless:

The new monarch—the first grandchild of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert—was boastful, arrogant and impetuous. He spent most of his waking hours talking, arguing, shouting, predicting, threatening and generally unbosoming himself of his latest preoccupations to whomever happened to be within earshot. Even when he made the utmost effort to restrain himself, the indiscretions kept slipping out.
— Christopher Clark and Andrew Preston, The New Statesman, 1 Nov. 2016

His characters … often explicitly and conspicuously [reject] advice to take time, find out more, gather information, test assumptions, or consider alternative courses of action. Such impetuous decisions usually lead to greater calamity.
— Edith Hall, in A Companion to Sophocles, 2012

If Nicholas be not always found to be blameless or agreeable, he is not always intended to appear so. He is a young man of an impetuous temper and of little or no experience; and I saw no reason why such a hero should be lifted out of nature.
— Charles Dickens, preface to Nicholas Nickleby, 1839

Passion, ever an inspiration for impetuous behavior, is also often implied, as those guided by the heart take ill-considered action:

This isn't the most historically faithful examination of the relationship between Henry [VIII] and Anne Boleyn, the singular woman who managed to control him, however briefly. But the drama deftly humanizes this impetuous pair as it explores the circumstances that brought them together and drove them apart.
— Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun, 27, Oct. 2016

The word is, especially in literature, sometimes applied to those that can't, in fact, do much considering at all, ill or otherwise:

A wide plain, where the broadening Floss hurries on between its green banks to the sea, and the loving tide, rushing to meet it, checks its passage with an impetuous embrace.
— George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860

Sylvie burst in all impetuous, sprang to my lap, and with her paws at my neck, and her little nose and tongue somewhat overpoweringly busy about my face, mouth, and eyes, flourished her bushy tail over the desk, and scattered books and papers far and wide.
— Charlotte Brontë, Villette, 1853

The impulsiveness of an impetuous human is here imagined to exist in a river and a dog. This too is standard use, and not an example of writers being impetuous with word choice.

Choose the Right Synonym for impetuous

precipitate, headlong, abrupt, impetuous, sudden mean showing undue haste or unexpectedness.

precipitate stresses lack of due deliberation and implies prematureness of action.

the army's precipitate withdrawal

headlong stresses rashness and lack of forethought.

a headlong flight from arrest

abrupt stresses curtness and a lack of warning or ceremony.

an abrupt refusal

impetuous stresses extreme impatience or impulsiveness.

an impetuous lover proposing marriage

sudden stresses unexpectedness and sharpness or violence of action.

flew into a sudden rage

Examples of impetuous in a Sentence

In one episode of "The Sopranos," … the young, impetuous mobster Christopher Moltisanti … tries to write a screenplay in the hours when he is not robbing trucks or picking up cannolis for Tony. David Remnick, New Yorker, 2 Apr. 2001
And from the beginning, NASA was trapped beneath the dominoes, as the Soviets knocked off first satellite, first man in space, first earth orbit, first space walk. But it was Kennedy's impetuous science-fiction PR that really put the pressure on, when he promised to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade. Erik Davis, Village Voice, 26 July 1994
Men who don't wear hats are generally youthful, vigorous, impetuous, and have a devil-may-care glint in their eyes. Mike Royko, Like I Was Sayin'  … , 1984
He's always been an impetuous young man.
Recent Examples on the Web The plot picks up when one of the most respected herders leaves his animals in the care of his impetuous son, Ivvar, who meets Mad Lasse’s daughter Willa. Mary Ann Grossmann, Twin Cities, 28 Jan. 2024 And then came Saddam Hussein’s impetuous invasion of Kuwait and quick expulsion therefrom by the United States. Christian Schneider, National Review, 21 Dec. 2023 The impetuous Aries always wants to move forward but feels thwarted by the retrograde energy of the minor planet. Hannah Madlener, Glamour, 20 Dec. 2023 Nearly a decade after Adam Driver killed Harrison Ford on the big screen, Star Wars fans are still harassing the actor for his character Kylo Ren’s impetuous decision to dispatch his on-screen father, Han Solo. Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone, 1 Dec. 2023 Some saw the incident as a demonstration of Zaslav’s impetuous decision-making. Clare Malone, The New Yorker, 23 Aug. 2023 The technology may fail, but the human experience as a messy, impetuous thing remains. Gene Park, Washington Post, 31 Aug. 2023 His banning from the Orioles’ airwaves since July 23, as first reported Monday by Awful Announcing, is more than just an impetuous decision made by a club official – likely owner John Angelos – who can’t take anything even tangentially negative said about his team. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, 8 Aug. 2023 In the uneven period drama, a country girl starts to make her way in the big city and is drawn into a bohemian circle, intrigued by the impetuous painters who turn out to be cads and especially by a free-spirited, sad-eyed model. Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'impetuous.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin impetuosus, from Latin impetus — see impetus

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of impetuous was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near impetuous

Cite this Entry

“Impetuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


im·​pet·​u·​ous im-ˈpech-(ə-)wəs How to pronounce impetuous (audio)
: marked by force of action or movement
impetuously adverb
impetuousness noun
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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