in·​cu·​bate | \ ˈiŋ-kyə-ˌbāt How to pronounce incubate (audio) , 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 How to pronounce incubate (audio) , ˈin-​ \ adjective
incubatory \ ˈiŋ-​kyə-​bə-​ˌtȯr-​ē How to pronounce incubate (audio) , -​ˌbā-​tə-​rē , ˈin-​ \ adjective

Synonyms for incubate


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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 Trump may struggle to incubate such an audience given the overtly political nature of his digital endeavor, some experts said. Author: Tony Romm, Josh Dawsey, Anchorage Daily News, "Trump scrambles to find new social network after Twitter ban, as White House prepares to blast big tech," 10 Jan. 2021 The reversals reflect the limitations of Covid-19 tests on a virus that can take days to incubate, and, in at least one case, failures by cruise management to properly quarantine crew or sound the alarm when employees became sick. Rebecca Smith, WSJ, "Cruise Ships Can’t Sail Away From Covid," 31 Dec. 2020 The existing 14-day quarantine recommendation reflects the ability of the virus to incubate for a long period before symptoms appear. Joel Achenbach, Anchorage Daily News, "Some 2-week coronavirus quarantines can be cut to 10 or 7 days, CDC says," 2 Dec. 2020 Netflix was the first app available on Roku and helped incubate the business. Patience Haggin, WSJ, "Roku Torments Entertainment Giants in Quest to Dominate Streaming," 17 Dec. 2020 One wonders where the next great innovative business ecosystem will find its own apocryphal garages, basements, and dorm rooms in which to incubate the future. John Mackey, National Review, "How to Foster Innovation and Create Value," 2 Dec. 2020 Several days later, there’s an increase in hospitalizations, after the virus has had time to incubate and cause severe disease in its unluckiest victims. Author: Deborah Netburn, Anchorage Daily News, "Coronavirus infections are higher than ever, but COVID-19 death rates are not. Why?," 25 Nov. 2020 Several days later, there’s an increase in hospitalizations, after the virus has had time to incubate and cause severe disease in its unluckiest victims. Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times, "Coronavirus infections are higher than ever, but COVID-19 deaths are not. Why?," 25 Nov. 2020 The virus can incubate for days before symptoms appear, and transmission is so widespread that residents could be infected anytime between the negative test and Thanksgiving. Sophie Carson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin reports more than 100 deaths from COVID-19 in one day for first time as health experts plead for residents to stay home," 24 Nov. 2020

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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Time Traveler for incubate

Time Traveler

The first known use of incubate was in 1641

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Statistics for incubate

Last Updated

2 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Incubate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2021.

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


in·​cu·​bate | \ ˈiŋ-kyə-ˌbāt How to pronounce incubate (audio) \
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- How to pronounce incubate (audio) \
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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