in·​cho·​ate in-ˈkō-ət How to pronounce inchoate (audio)
: 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
inchoately adverb
inchoateness noun

Did you know?

When should you use inchoate?

Inchoate comes from inchoare, which means "to start work on" in Latin but translates literally as "to hitch up" (inchoare combines the prefix in- with the Latin noun cohum, which refers to the strap that secures a plow beam to a draft animal's yoke). The concept of this initial step toward the larger task of plowing a field explains how inchoate came to describe something (such as a plan or idea) in its early, not fully formed, stages of development.

Examples of inchoate in a Sentence

inchoate feelings of affection for a man whom she had, up till now, thought of as only a friend
Recent Examples on the Web In life, Nichols had been diminished to an abstraction, a target for the inchoate rage of men who were, at least nominally, part of his own community. Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker, 31 Jan. 2023 Williams and his admirers were certainly right to point out the inchoate and woolly nature of much of the 'survival of the species' talk which was in the air in the mid-20th century. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 14 June 2011 Distant strings heard faintly through an open door, a quiet trumpet in the balcony, and a huddle of wind instruments on the vast stage turned the hall into a great resonating chamber, alive with inchoate whispers. Vulture, 18 Mar. 2022 My own position as to the details of mutation rates and their implications for modern human origins are inchoate. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 14 July 2011 An inchoate plot then took shape in the form of the film’s second lead character. Patrick Brzeski, The Hollywood Reporter, 13 Dec. 2022 Strong delicately teases out her characters’ emotional stasis, the end of one major phase and the inchoate beginnings of another. Hamilton Cain, Washington Post, 7 Nov. 2022 Families gradually leave; eventually, the nation itself becomes increasingly inchoate, legally and spiritually rooted to a shoreline that is disappearing under rising tides. Kausea Natano, Time, 28 Sep. 2022 The rage of men whose grievances are inchoate and inexhaustible found expression in a 58-year-old movie star’s humiliation of his 36-year-old former wife. New York Times, 2 June 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'inchoate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Latin incohātus, inchoātus "only begun, unfinished, imperfect," from past participle of incohāre "to start work on, begin, initiate," perhaps, if the original sense was "to yoke a plow to a team of oxen," from in- in- entry 2 + -cohāre, verbal derivative of cohum "hollow in the middle of a yoke into which a pole is fitted" or "strap used to attach the pole to the yoke," of uncertain origin

Note: The word cohum is known only from the work of the grammarians varro and Sextus Pompeius Festus, and their definitions may have been influenced by the presumed etymologies. Varro, who took the word to mean "hollow in the middle of a yoke" ("sub jugo medio cavum"), may have associated it with cavum "cavity, hole," which he uses as the genus term. Festus, who defines it as a strap or thong (lorum), associates it with cohibēre "to hold together, keep in place." If these meanings are correct, cohum may be linked to a putative western Indo-European verbal base *kagh- "grasp, enclose" (see the note at haw entry 1), with an o of secondary origin. But given the lack of textual evidence for cohum, any etymology must remain speculative.

First Known Use

1534, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of inchoate was in 1534


Dictionary Entries Near inchoate

Cite this Entry

“Inchoate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

Legal Definition


in·​cho·​ate in-ˈkō-ət, ˈiŋ-kō-ˌāt How to pronounce inchoate (audio)
: not yet made complete, certain, or specific : not perfected see also inchoate lien at lien
: not yet transformed into actual use or possession
until an employee has earned his retirement pay…[it] is but an inchoate rightPeterson v. Fire & Police Pension Ass'n, 759 P.2d 720 (1988)
: 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
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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