im·​pulse | \ ˈim-ˌpəls How to pronounce impulse (audio) , im-ˈpəls\
impulsed; impulsing

Definition of impulse

 (Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

: to give an impulse to


im·​pulse | \ ˈim-ˌpəls How to pronounce impulse (audio) \

Definition of impulse (Entry 2 of 2)

b : a force so communicated as to produce motion suddenly
c : incentive
2a : the act of driving onward with sudden force : impulsion
b : motion produced by such an impulsion : impetus
c : a wave of excitation transmitted through tissues and especially nerve fibers and muscles that results in physiological activity or inhibition — see nerve impulse
3a : a sudden spontaneous inclination or incitement to some usually unpremeditated action
b : a propensity or natural tendency usually other than rational
4a : the product of the average value of a force and the time during which it acts : the change in momentum produced by the force

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Choose the Right Synonym for impulse


motive, impulse, incentive, inducement, spur, goad mean a stimulus to action. motive implies an emotion or desire operating on the will and causing it to act. a motive for the crime impulse suggests a driving power arising from personal temperament or constitution. buying on impulse incentive applies to an external influence (such as an expected reward) inciting to action. a bonus was offered as an incentive inducement suggests a motive prompted by the deliberate enticements or allurements of another. offered a watch as an inducement to subscribe spur applies to a motive that stimulates the faculties or increases energy or ardor. fear was a spur to action goad suggests a motive that keeps one going against one's will or desire. thought insecurity a goad to worker efficiency

Examples of impulse in a Sentence


He has to learn to control his impulses. the new auto factory was just the impulse that the local economy needed

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Women displayed way more brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the region that deals with decision making, focus and impulse control. Caroline Picard, Good Housekeeping, "Science Says Women Have a More Active Brain, Compared to Men," 8 Aug. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Some people find that a questionable purchase inevitably follows a night of drinking, and Academy Award winner Russell Crowe evidently isn’t immune to the impulse. Rachel Yang,, "Russell Crowe once drunkenly bought a dinosaur head from Leonardo DiCaprio," 20 June 2019 There’s a definite impulse to call this strong showing by female acts the Beyoncé Effect, as Coachella has historically not been a festival known for women running the show—not in the least. Michelle Ruiz, Vogue, "One Year After Beychella, a New Era of Female Domination in the Desert," 15 Apr. 2019 At its best, the show is a tribute to the ludic impulse that many of us carelessly abandoned back on the elementary school playground, the ability to make a branch or a puddle or a chunk of chalked up pavement into some new thing, some new world. Alexis Soloski, New York Times, "Review: Mummenschanz Offers Wonder, and a Grumpy Trash Bag," 10 July 2018 The pleasure of trying out a new color when everything else seems out of control is a human impulse that machines can neither comprehend nor anticipate. Marc Rey, Fortune, "Commentary: Artificial Intelligence Should Complement, But Never Replace, the Human Connection," 2 Apr. 2018 Oklahoma, which became a state in 1907, had been a crazy quilt of political impulses, from the prairie populism of the 1890s to the election of socialists in the 1910s. Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, "How Elizabeth Warren Learned to Fight," 24 June 2019 Then, a transmitter converts signals from the processor into electric impulses, which are sent to the auditory nerve. Michelle Lou, CNN, "The moment a toddler heard sound for the very first time," 21 June 2019 Fight that impulse, and stick it on the grill, where the high heat will kill off the bacteria. NBC News, "Dr. Fernstrom: Food mistakes that could jeopardize your next summer BBQ," 21 June 2019 So the inclination to celebrate around this date has existed for centuries; Fête de la Musique extends that impulse, albeit in a more secular way. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "Fête de la Musique, the worldwide midsummer musical bash, explained," 21 June 2019

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

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First Known Use of impulse


1611, in the meaning defined above


1647, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for impulse


Latin impulsus, from impellere to impel

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Time Traveler for impulse

The first known use of impulse was in 1611

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More Definitions for impulse



English Language Learners Definition of impulse

: a sudden strong desire to do something
technical : a small amount of energy that moves from one area to another


im·​pulse | \ ˈim-ˌpəls How to pronounce impulse (audio) \

Kids Definition of impulse

1 : a force that starts a body into motion
2 : the motion produced by a starting force
3 : a strong sudden desire to do something She resisted the impulse to shout.


im·​pulse | \ ˈim-ˌpəls How to pronounce impulse (audio) \

Medical Definition of impulse

1 : a wave of excitation transmitted through tissues and especially nerve fibers and muscles that results in physiological activity or inhibition
2a : a sudden spontaneous inclination or incitement to some usually unpremeditated action some uncontrollable impulse…may have driven the defendant to the commission of the murderous act— B. N. Cardozo
b : a propensity or natural tendency usually other than rational the fundamental impulse of self-expression— Havelock Ellis

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More from Merriam-Webster on impulse

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with impulse

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for impulse

Spanish Central: Translation of impulse

Nglish: Translation of impulse for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of impulse for Arabic Speakers

Comments on impulse

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


characterized by aphorism

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