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

Definition of impulse

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a sudden spontaneous inclination or incitement to some usually unpremeditated action
b : a propensity or natural tendency usually other than rational
2a : a wave of excitation transmitted through tissues and especially nerve fibers and muscles that results in physiological activity or inhibition — see nerve impulse
b : the act of driving onward with sudden force : impulsion
c : motion produced by such an impulsion : impetus
b : 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 : a force so communicated as to produce motion suddenly


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

Definition of impulse (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to give an impulse to

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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

Noun 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: Noun Your impulse is to extricate yourself, to retreat from everyone, to self-isolate. Arthur Longworth, The New Republic, "How to Survive Supermax," 18 June 2020 Restrain the impulse to snap at loved ones or needlessly rush through necessary tasks. Magi Helena, oregonlive, "Horoscope for June 6, 2020: Gemini, lessen your stress; Scorpio, pull out the tact and diplomacy," 6 June 2020 In these cases and others like them, our impulse toward acquisition has overwhelmed the tranquility of the outdoors, creating a breathless set of imperatives: first, fastest, highest. Michael O’donnell, WSJ, "‘Without Ever Reaching the Summit’ Review: The Common Miracles," 12 June 2020 To avoid trouble, curb your impulse to comment, or be prepared to deal with the consequences that are sure to follow. Abigail Van Buren, oregonlive, "Dear Abby: Man keeps granddaughter a secret from controlling ex-wife," 10 June 2020 At 30, Pushkin longed for a private family life, shielded from both the state and his admirers (if that impulse violated the romantic notion of the poet as heartbroken loner, so did his view of literature as a profession). The Economist, "A quarantine rhapsody For Alexander Pushkin, lockdown was liberating," 4 June 2020 The biblical impulse toward social justice appears especially in the prophets of the Old Testament, such as Amos and Isaiah whose call for justice and equality is a constant theme. Samira Mehta, The Conversation, "A justification for unrest? Look no further than the Bible and the Founding Fathers," 4 June 2020 Neurons fire an electrical impulse when the voltage difference between the inside and outside of the neuron reaches a certain trigger point. Quanta Magazine, "Spreading the Word on a Possible Alzheimer’s Treatment," 27 May 2020 But my impulse to malign them evaporated last year when Ollie and Dollie raised their chicks underneath our chair. National Geographic, "Exploration is just a click away.," 22 May 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Cutler, who frequently posts on the group, says that a lot of posts are from people who have recently impulse-purchased chickens, not knowing what to do with them, and that a lot of the birds being put up for sale are clearly sick. Dallas News, "The chicken business is booming right now, but what happens when life gets back to normal?," 22 Apr. 2020 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

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


1647, in the meaning defined at sense 4a


1611, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for impulse


Latin impulsus, from impellere to impel

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Time Traveler for impulse

Time Traveler

The first known use of impulse was in 1611

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Statistics for impulse

Last Updated

1 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Impulse.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for impulse


How to pronounce impulse (audio)

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for impulse

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with impulse

Spanish Central: Translation of impulse

Nglish: Translation of impulse for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of impulse for Arabic Speakers

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