in·​cu·​bate | \ˈiŋ-kyə-ˌbāt, ˈin-\
incubated; incubating

Definition of incubate 

transitive verb

1a : to sit on (eggs) so as to hatch by the warmth of the body

b : to maintain (something, such as an embryo or a chemically active system) under conditions favorable for hatching, development, or reaction

2 : to cause or aid the development of incubate an idea

intransitive verb

1 : to sit on eggs

2 : to undergo incubation : develop

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Other Words from incubate

incubative \ˈiŋ-​kyə-​ˌbā-​tiv, ˈin-​ \ adjective
incubatory \ˈiŋ-​kyə-​bə-​ˌtȯr-​ē, -​ˌbā-​tə-​rē, ˈin-​ \ adjective

Synonyms for incubate


brood, hatch, set, sit

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Examples of incubate in a Sentence

The female bird incubates the eggs. Researchers incubated the cells in the laboratory. The cultures must incubate for five more days. The virus will incubate in the body for several days before the patient experiences any symptoms.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Melodramatic Purple The trend was already incubating when Lorde stepped onto the red carpet at the 2017 MTV Awards in a light purple confection and gave it a name. Hayley Phelan, New York Times, "Place Your Bets on the New Millennial Pink," 3 July 2018 Most of that is from The Fairness Project, which has spent about $5.5 million to incubate and lead expansion efforts in the four states, as well as in Maine. Stephanie Armour, WSJ, "Medicaid-Expansion Fights Pit Hospitals, Labor Against Conservative Groups, Tobacco Companies," 20 Oct. 2018 If all goes according to plan and the embryo is achieved, it will be inserted into a southern white rhino, who will incubate the baby. Mary Holland, Condé Nast Traveler, "Can the Northern White Rhino Come Back from the Edge of Extinction?," 22 Sep. 2018 The team was able to keep these hPGCLCs alive for four months through incubating them in a dish with mouse ovary cells. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "Scientists Take Major Step Towards Making Babies From Skin Cells," 21 Sep. 2018 Those larvae then get picked up by biting mosquitoes, which incubate the mini mooches before transferring them to new hosts at their next blood meal. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Selfies show worm slithered through woman’s face for 2 weeks," 22 June 2018 The tech rise of Guadalajara had taken decades to incubate. Andrew Selee, Smithsonian, "How Guadalajara Reinvented Itself as a Technology Hub," 13 June 2018 The Tezos community, however, proved itself exactly the sort of self-orchestrating effort the platform was designed to incubate, even without recourse to its actual blockchain. Gideon Lewis-kraus, WIRED, "The Blockchain: A Love Story—And a Horror Story," 18 June 2018 Southgate has done a hell of a job changing the perception of England, incubating an exciting young side by helping them to play, for the most, without the suffocating inhibitions of fear and pressure., "Panic Stations: We Need to Talk About England's Knockout Record Before It Comes Home on July 15," 2 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'incubate.' 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 incubate

1641, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for incubate

Latin incubatus, past participle of incubare, from in- + cubare to lie

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Statistics for incubate

Last Updated

15 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for incubate

The first known use of incubate was in 1641

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More Definitions for incubate



English Language Learners Definition of incubate

of a bird : to sit on eggs so that they will be kept warm and will hatch

of an egg : to be kept warm before hatching

: to keep (something) in the proper conditions for development


in·​cu·​bate | \ˈiŋ-kyə-ˌbāt \
incubated; incubating

Kids Definition of incubate

1 : to sit upon eggs to hatch them by warmth

2 : to keep under conditions good for hatching or development


in·​cu·​bate | \ˈiŋ-kyə-ˌbāt, ˈin- \
incubated; incubating

Medical Definition of incubate 

transitive verb

1 : to maintain (as eggs, embryos of animals, or bacteria) under prescribed and usually controlled conditions favorable for hatching or development especially in an incubator

2 : to maintain (a chemically active system) under controlled conditions for the development of a reaction

intransitive verb

: to undergo incubation the cultures incubated for five days

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More from Merriam-Webster on incubate

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with incubate

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for incubate

Spanish Central: Translation of incubate

Nglish: Translation of incubate for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of incubate for Arabic Speakers

Comments on incubate

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


to make faulty or ineffective

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