in·​spire | \ in-ˈspī(-ə)r How to pronounce inspire (audio) \
inspired; inspiring

Definition of inspire

transitive verb

1a : to spur on : impel, motivate threats don't necessarily inspire people to work
b : to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on was particularly inspired by the Romanticists
c : affect seeing the old room again inspired him with nostalgia
d : to influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration
2a : bring about, occasion the book was inspired by his travels in the Far East
b : incite
3a : to draw forth or bring out thoughts inspired by a visit to the cathedral
b : to communicate to an agent supernaturally
5 : to spread (rumor) by indirect means or through the agency of another
6a archaic : to breathe or blow into or upon
b archaic : to infuse (something, such as life) by breathing inspired into him an active soul …— Wisdom of Solomon 15:11

Other Words from inspire

inspirer noun

More on the Meaning of Inspire

When inspire first came into use in the 14th century it had a meaning it still carries in English today: “to influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural influence or action.” It’s this use that we see in phrases like “scripture inspired by God,” where the idea is that God shaped the scripture in an active and explicit way.

The meaning is a metaphorical extension of the word's Latin root: inspirare means "to breathe or blow into." The metaphor is a powerful one, with the very breath of a divine or supernatural force asserted as being at work.

The metaphor developed further, with inspire gaining similar but somewhat weaker meanings. Someone who is inspired by a particular artist, for example, is influenced by that artist in a way that animates or intensifies their own work. Something that inspires people to action motivates them. And if we say that something has inspired an emotion, thought, or idea, we are saying that it somehow had a part in its coming to be.

The word inspire has also drawn on the meaning of its literal root over the years, with meanings like "inhale," "to breathe or blow into or upon," and "to infuse (something, such as life) by breathing," but these meanings are not commonly encountered in modern use.

Examples of inspire in a Sentence

He inspired generations of future scientists. Her courage has inspired us. His discoveries inspired a whole new line of scientific research. Her first novel was inspired by her early childhood. The news inspired hope that the war might end soon.
Recent Examples on the Web Influential stories inspire intellectual engagement from the audience. Stephanie Judd, Forbes, 6 May 2022 Experiments with beef slow cooked in a hot box could soon inspire a pie based on the quesabirria trend. oregonlive, 5 May 2022 Some of the outdoor opportunities inspire intense wanderlust — such as the chance to spend six months conducting research and helping out at a remote research station at Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii. Washington Post, 5 May 2022 Worse, the leak could inspire violence against the Court or the justices. The Editors, National Review, 3 May 2022 From the slurpy deliciousness of spaghetti to the warring factions of penne, pasta shapes inspire a lot of feelings. Alexandra Ossola, Quartz, 3 May 2022 Woman's Day/Getty Images Please enlighten my mind with truth, inflame my heart with love, inspire my will with courage, enrich my life with service. Elizabeth Berry, Woman's Day, 3 May 2022 The symbol of the torch has always been meant to inspire everyone, rather than just a select few, lighting the way for all in their pursuits of happiness. Elise Taylor, Vogue, 2 May 2022 No doubt, Nadia’s signature look will inspire viewers to embrace future-proof tie-neck blouses, double-breasted blazers, and gold jewelry—all without having to embark on a time-bending adventure. Emma Fraser, ELLE, 29 Apr. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of inspire

14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1d

History and Etymology for inspire

Middle English, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French inspirer, from Latin inspirare, from in- + spirare to breathe

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The first known use of inspire was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

11 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Inspire.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for inspire


in·​spire | \ in-ˈspīr How to pronounce inspire (audio) \
inspired; inspiring

Kids Definition of inspire

1 : to move or guide by divine influence
2 : to move (someone) to act, create, or feel emotions : arouse The Senator's comments inspired me to write a letter.
3 : to cause something to occur or to be created or done It was a people's movement, inspired by the courageous acts of ordinary citizens …— Christopher Paul Curtis, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963


in·​spire | \ in-ˈspī(ə)r How to pronounce inspire (audio) \
inspired; inspiring

Medical Definition of inspire

transitive verb

: to draw in by breathing : breathe in : inhale the volume of air inspired

intransitive verb

: to draw in breath : inhale air into the lungs

More from Merriam-Webster on inspire

Nglish: Translation of inspire for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of inspire for Arabic Speakers


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