adjective in·cho·ate \ in-ˈkō-ət , ˈin-kə-ˌwāt \
|Updated on: 27 Jun 2018

Definition of inchoate

: being only partly in existence or operation : incipient; especially : imperfectly formed or formulated : formless, incoherent
  • misty, inchoate suspicions that all is not well with the nation
  • —J. M. Perry





inchoate was our Word of the Day on 06/21/2016. Hear the podcast!

Examples of inchoate in a Sentence

  1. inchoate feelings of affection for a man whom she had, up till now, thought of as only a friend

Recent Examples of inchoate from the Web

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

When Should You Use inchoate?

Inchoate derives from inchoare, which means "to start work on" in Latin but translates literally as "to hitch up." Inchoare was formed from the prefix in- and the noun cohum, which refers to the part of a yoke to which the beam of a plow is fitted. The concept of implementing this initial step toward the larger task of plowing a field can help provide a clearer understanding of inchoate, an adjective used to describe the imperfect form of something (such as a plan or idea) in its early stages of development. Perhaps because it looks a little like the word chaos (although the two aren't closely related), inchoate now not only implies the formlessness that often marks beginnings but also the confusion caused by chaos.

Origin and Etymology of inchoate

Latin inchoatus, past participle of inchoare to start work on, perhaps from in- + cohum part of a yoke to which the beam of a plow is fitted

Financial Definition of INCHOATE


What It Is

Inchoate is a legal term indicating that a transaction or activity has been discussed or even agreed upon but is not final or is still incomplete.

How It Works

Let's say Company XYZ wants to buy Company ABC. The two companies agree to the price and other terms, and now it's a matter of time until the paperwork is completed, making the transaction final. During that time -- that is, after the companies agree but before the transaction is finalized -- the deal is inchoate.

Why It Matters

In the merger world, lots of time can pass between when a deal is announced and when it closes. During this time, the deals are inchoate and can often experience several bumps in the road as the companies do their due diligence on each other and implement the terms of the deal.

Real estate deals are also often inchoate and transactions can often fall apart before they reach the closing table.

INCHOATE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of inchoate for English Language Learners

  • : not completely formed or developed yet

Law Dictionary


adjective in·cho·ate \ in-ˈkō-ət, ˈiŋ-kō-ˌāt \

legal Definition of inchoate

1 a : not yet made complete, certain, or specific : not perfected — see also inchoate lien at lien
b : not yet transformed into actual use or possession
  • until an employee has earned his retirement pay…[it] is but an inchoate right
  • Peterson v. Fire & Police Pension Ass'n, 759 P.2d 720 (1988)
2 : of or relating to a crime (as attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy) which consists of acts that are preliminary to another crime and that are in themselves criminal — compare choate

Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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


to hasten

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Test Your Emoji Exceptionalism

  • test-your-emoji-exceptionalism-written-with-a-lot-of-emoji
  • What is this emoji intended to represent: 🤳
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


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!