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
c : incentive


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 The impulse to build around cars is hard-wired into almost all our funding formulas, institutional norms and culture. Angie Schmitt For Cnn Business Perspectives, CNN, "Biden's infrastructure plan would reduce our reliance on cars," 10 Apr. 2021 The impulse to wring the maximum amount of value from workers at the least amount of cost is nothing new, of course. Caitlin Harrington, Wired, "As Amazon Workers Organize, They Stress: ‘We Are Not Robots’," 9 Apr. 2021 Cleary’s first impulse was toward a more outward kind of realism — books about kids who live on recognizable streets, go to school, and play like actual kids play. Kathryn Vanarendonk, Vulture, "The Emotional Transformations of Beverly Cleary’s Work," 27 Mar. 2021 The lasting impulse may be especially toward hybrid work modes, more than full-time work from home. Michael S. Hopkins, The Christian Science Monitor, "Remote work is here to stay – and it’s changing our lives," 11 Mar. 2021 There’s an impulse to recoil immediately at something as sensitive and voyeuristic and potentially exploitative as therapy filmed for television. Kathryn Vanarendonk, Vulture, "Trust Me, You Want to Watch Couples Therapy," 16 Apr. 2021 Georgia has no state law requiring a firearm waiting period, a requirement in 10 states and the District of Columbia that aims to save lives by delaying a potential killer from acting on impulse. Christal Hayes, USA TODAY, "'Why does this keep happening?' Mass shootings in Boulder and Atlanta expose loopholes, weaknesses in gun laws," 1 Apr. 2021 That embarrassment was an ethical feeling, an impulse to connect my current pleasure to some larger obligation to the world. Washington Post, "Helen Frankenthaler came from wealth and privilege. Her art transcends that.," 19 Mar. 2021 All of which is to say, your obsession with your image likely stems from an impulse that is entirely natural and, at root, pro-social. Meghan O'gieblyn, Wired, "Why Can't I Stop Staring at My Own Face on Zoom?," 4 Mar. 2021 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

3 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Impulse.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2021.

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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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