im·​pe·​tus | \ ˈim-pə-təs How to pronounce impetus (audio) \

Definition of impetus

1a(1) : a driving force : impulse
b : stimulation or encouragement resulting in increased activity
2 : the property possessed by a moving body in virtue of its mass and its motion used of bodies moving suddenly or violently to indicate the origin and intensity of the motion

Keep scrolling for more

Impetus Has Latin Roots

You already have plenty of incentive to learn the origin of "impetus," so we won't force the point. "Impetus" comes from Latin, where it means "attack or assault"; the verb "impetere" was formed by combining the prefix in- with petere, meaning "to go to or seek." "Petere" also gives us other words suggesting a forceful urging or momentum, such as "appetite," "perpetual," and "centripetal." "Impetus" describes the kind of force that encourages an action ("the impetus behind the project") or the momentum of an action already begun ("the meetings only gave impetus to the rumors of a merger").

Examples of impetus in a Sentence

In a revealing comment, Mr. Updike says an impetus for Rabbit, Run was the "threatening" success of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, the signature book of the 1950s Beat Generation, and its frenetic search for sensation. — Dennis Farney, Wall Street Journal, 16 Sept. 1992 But 1939 gave new impetus to the Western with the Cecil B. de Mille railway epic Union Pacific, John Ford's skillful and dramatic Stagecoach,  … and George Marshall's classic comic Western, Destry Rides Again. — Ira Konigsberg, The Complete Film Dictionary, 1987 … new techniques of navigation and shipbuilding enlarged trade and the geographical horizon; newly centralized power absorbed from the declining medieval communes was at the disposal of the monarchies and the growing nationalism of the past century gave it impetus — Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, 1984 His discoveries have given impetus to further research. the reward money should be sufficient impetus for someone to come forward with information about the robbery
See More
Recent Examples on the Web In those cases, though, the impetus of the split came from the institutions themselves, not from Purdue. Nicholas Florko, STAT, "Purdue, maker of OxyContin, quietly splits ways with PhRMA as it pulls back from lobbying," 17 Dec. 2019 The Padres offense — with unprecedented help from Paddack and the usual impetus of Fernando Tatis Jr. — did almost enough to escape its general malaise. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Padres’ Paddack strong vs. Giants, but bullpen blows game," 12 June 2019 The initial impetus of the PRB was more aesthetic than political. Ruth Bernard Yeazell, The New York Review of Books, "Unnatural Naturalism," 21 Mar. 2019 This obviously is the impetus for bringing Geraldine into the fold. Dan Snierson,, "Killing Eve producer explains shocking death in season 3 premiere," 13 Apr. 2020 Bringing people back to campus and having the alums meet with the next generations of students, that is the impetus for generating gifts and philanthropy. Christina Capatides, CBS News, "Colleges across the U.S. brace for impact as the coronavirus batters their already tenuous financial ground," 10 Apr. 2020 The absolutely insane final play in the Raiders' 21-20 win over their AFC West nemesis was the impetus for an NFL rule change that restricted advancing fumbles after the two-minute warning or on fourth downs. Jim Reineking, USA TODAY, "Greatest trick plays in NFL history, from Philly Special to Dan Marino's fake spike," 1 Apr. 2020 Prosecutors will argue that McCormack's death was the impetus for two other alleged killings that have long shrouded Durst in suspicion -- Berman's killing and the 2001 slaying and dismemberment of a neighbor in the coastal Texas city of Galveston. Paul Vercammen, CNN, "Opening statements begin in the murder trial of real estate heir Robert Durst," 4 Mar. 2020 The continued sale of data was the impetus behind the penalties, which amount to tens of millions of dollars for each carrier, people familiar with the matter said. New York Times, "F.C.C. to Fine Cellphone Carriers for Selling Customers’ Locations," 27 Feb. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'impetus.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of impetus

1641, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)

History and Etymology for impetus

Latin, assault, impetus, from impetere to attack, from in- + petere to go to, seek — more at feather

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about impetus

Time Traveler for impetus

Time Traveler

The first known use of impetus was in 1641

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about impetus

Statistics for impetus

Last Updated

14 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Impetus.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 May. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for impetus


How to pronounce impetus (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of impetus

: a force that causes something (such as a process or activity) to be done or to become more active
technical : a force that causes an object to begin moving or to continue to move

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on impetus

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for impetus

Spanish Central: Translation of impetus

Nglish: Translation of impetus for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of impetus for Arabic Speakers

Comments on impetus

What made you want to look up impetus? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Obscure Shapes

  • a pile of three dimensional shapes in green
  • Something that is ooid is shaped like:
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!