in·​cip·​i·​ent | \ in-ˈsi-pē-ənt How to pronounce incipient (audio) \

Definition of incipient

: beginning to come into being or to become apparent an incipient solar system evidence of incipient racial tension

Other Words from incipient

incipiently adverb

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A good starting point for any investigation of incipient is the Latin verb incipere, which means "to begin." Incipient emerged in English in the 17th century, appearing in both religious and scientific contexts, as in "incipient grace" and "incipient putrefaction." Later came the genesis of two related nouns, incipiency and incipience, both of which are synonymous with beginning. Incipere also stands at the beginning of the words inception ("an act, process, or instance of beginning") and incipit, a term that literally means "it begins" and which was used for the opening words of a medieval text. Incipere itself derives from another Latin verb, capere, which means "to take" or "to seize."

Insipid vs. Incipient

There are those who claim that these two words are commonly confused, though the collected evidence in our files don’t support that claim (in edited prose, that is). If there is confusion, it is likely because incipient is sometimes used in constructions where its meaning is not clear.

Insipid is less common than incipient, but it is used more in general prose and with much more clarity than incipient is. Insipid means “weak,” and it can refer to people (“insipid hangers-on”), things (“what an insipid idea,” “painted the room an insipid blue,” “he gave his boss an insipid smile”), and specifically flavors or foods (“an insipid soup,” “the cocktail was insipid and watery”).

Incipient, on the other hand, is more common than insipid is and means “beginning to come into being or become apparent.” It has general use (“an incipient idea,” “incipient racial tensions”), but also has extensive specialized use in medicine (“an incipient disease”) and other scientific fields (“an incipient star in a distant galaxy”). But general use of incipient is sometime vague at best:

But devaluing grand slams to 3 1/2 runs has irked even the guys it was meant to pacify. "They're messing with the game," says incipient slugger Randy Johnson (three grannies already this spring). "Not to mention my RBI totals."
ESPN, 14 June 1999

Among my generation of aesthetes, bohemians, proto-dropouts, and incipient eternal students at Sydney University in the late 1950s, Robert Hughes was the golden boy.
— Clive James, The New York Review, 11 Jan. 2007

This menu looks traditional but embraces ingredients and ideas that have become incipient classics in American cuisine, such as portobello mushrooms, fresh mozzarella and mango.
— Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator, 30 Nov. 1995

Incipient is rarely used of people, and so the first example is an atypical use of the word. As for the other examples, can something that is just beginning to emerge be eternal, or a classic? Uses like this tend to confuse the reader.

If you find yourself unsure of which word to use, follow the rule that when referring to someone or something weak, use insipid, and when referring to something that is newly apparent or newly begun, use incipient.

Examples of incipient in a Sentence

The project is still in its incipient stages. I have an incipient dislike and distrust of that guy, and I only met him this morning.
Recent Examples on the Web Add Apple to the list of major U.S. companies, including Amazon and Starbucks, facing an incipient push by workers to form a union. Megan Cerullo, CBS News, 3 May 2022 The whole incident might end up as little more than a showy, performative in-kind contribution from the Florida Legislature to DeSantis' incipient 2024 presidential campaign. Joel Mathis, The Week, 25 Apr. 2022 These unfortunate incidents could potentially throw India’s incipient EV revolution off track. Niharika Sharma, Quartz, 31 Mar. 2022 Henry David Thoreau had incipient cabin fever but didn’t recognize it. The New Yorker, 4 Apr. 2022 Elites are susceptible but often surrounded by teams of doctors, coaches, nutritionists, and other experts who can spot incipient problems. Richard A. Lovett, Outside Online, 29 Mar. 2022 The red and blue gap in COVID-19 vaccination totals was preceded and predicted by a red and blue gap in belief in the seriousness of the incipient pandemic, Bardon said. Arielle Mitropoulos, ABC News, 28 Mar. 2022 What is fashion’s place in a moment of incipient war? Nicole Phelps, Vogue, 14 Mar. 2022 The second stage is called the incipient conflict stage. Washington Post, 8 Mar. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of incipient

1633, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for incipient

Latin incipient-, incipiens, present participle of incipere to begin — more at inception

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The first known use of incipient was in 1633

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Last Updated

12 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Incipient.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for incipient


in·​cip·​i·​ent | \ -ənt How to pronounce incipient (audio) \

Medical Definition of incipient

: beginning to come into being or to become apparent the incipient stage of a fever

Other Words from incipient

incipiently adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on incipient

Nglish: Translation of incipient for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of incipient for Arabic Speakers


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