im·pulse | \ˈim-ˌpəls, im-ˈpəls\
impulsed; impulsing

Definition of impulse 

(Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

: to give an impulse to


im·pulse | \ˈim-ˌpəls \

Definition of impulse (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : inspiration, motivation

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

b : pulse sense 4a

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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 White House staffers appealed to the President’s gut, while others tried to outmaneuver or wait out the President’s impulses. Brian Bennett, Time, "This Is What Trump’s Impulsive Diplomacy Looks Like," 14 June 2018 Vestberg’s impulses are in line with the trend in business today. Aaron Pressman, Fortune, "Data Sheet—How Verizon's New CEO Wants to Do Good, Not Just Do Well," 11 June 2018 Worst of all, Mr Trump’s impulses mean that China’s rise is more likely to end in confrontation. The Economist, "Donald Trump’s demolition theory of foreign policy won’t work," 7 June 2018 On impulse ahead of an accessories show, Brosnahan stayed up all night to tear her small logo from the inside of her bags and stitch them to the outside. Kate Gibson, CBS News, "Kate Spade began with a simple wish: An unfussy handbag," 5 June 2018 Purchased on impulse by ex-London couple restaurateur Catherine Butler and designer Ahmed Sidki in the early 2000’s, At the Chapel has evolved into the town’s hub. Jaimie Potters, Harper's BAZAAR, "This is The Small British Town You Haven’t Heard of–But Need to Visit," 31 May 2018 In that way, Tully is a lot like Young Adult, where Theron’s Mavis is an immature slob, operating almost entirely on impulse. Noel Murray, The Verge, "After Tully, watch Charlize Theron in Young Adult," 4 May 2018 Zen Diaries, in its commitment to grappling with the light and the dark of Shandling’s personality, offers a broader meditation on comedy, and on the impulse that drives people to crave making others laugh. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, "The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling Is a Eulogy Worth Watching," 28 Mar. 2018 In other words, fashion in the 2020s will (hopefully) rely less on impulse, more-is-more shopping and will value thoughtful, impactful purchases instead. Emily Farra, Vogue, "An On-The-Rise, Eco-Minded Designer Shares Her Highlights From Vancouver Fashion Week," 26 Mar. 2018

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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Statistics for impulse

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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

: a small amount of energy that moves from one area to another


im·pulse | \ˈim-ˌpəls \

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 \

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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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).


a state of commotion or excitement

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