inspire

verb

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

transitive verb

1
a
: 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
2
a
: bring about, occasion
the book was inspired by his travels in the Far East
b
: incite
3
a
: to draw forth or bring out
thoughts inspired by a visit to the cathedral
b
: to communicate to an agent supernaturally
4
5
: to spread (rumor) by indirect means or through the agency of another
6
a
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
inspirer noun

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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 Read on for more long-sleeve maxi styles inspired by Oprah. Nicol Natale, Peoplemag, 29 Feb. 2024 After a conversation with her, we’d just be inspired and learn so much. Paul Thompson, Billboard, 28 Feb. 2024 The 262-footer, which is part of Oceanco’s Simply Custom series, was inspired by the profound beauty of daydreams and features every amenity one could, well, dream of. Rachel Cormack, Robb Report, 28 Feb. 2024 Today, Marley has contributed her unique voice to the soundtrack of a film on her grandfather’s life, Bob Marley: One Love, a movie that delves into Bob Marley’s journey to overcome adversity and inspire nations through revolutionary music. Dr. Brittany Chambers, Forbes, 28 Feb. 2024 In addition to receiving over 10 million views on both TikTok and X (formerly known as Twitter) and inspiring memes and reaction videos, the clip also made Blackband the target of a wild round of accusations and divisive opinions. Ct Jones, Rolling Stone, 28 Feb. 2024 This initiative is about investing in a work environment that inspires them through seamless integration of indoor and outdoor spaces with the technology, flexibility and amenities to drive our business forward,'' CEO Todd Schneider stated in the press release. The Enquirer, 28 Feb. 2024 Antonoff grew up comfortably in New Jersey — his older sister, Rachel, is now a fashion designer — and played in a series of bands in high school and afterward; one of the groups, Steel Train, had a song inspired by his then-girlfriend, Scarlett Johansson. Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times, 28 Feb. 2024 Max Greenfield will release a fourth children’s book, the actor announced on Tuesday, this one inspired by his friend, the late Leslie Jordan. Zoe G Phillips, The Hollywood Reporter, 27 Feb. 2024 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near inspire

Cite this Entry

“Inspire.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inspire. Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

inspire

verb
in·​spire in-ˈspī(ə)r How to pronounce inspire (audio)
inspired; inspiring
1
: to move or guide by divine influence
prophets inspired by God
2
a
: to stimulate to greater or higher activity : make spirited
inspired by his parents
b
: to cause to have a particular thought or feeling
the old house inspired her with longing for the past
c
: to cause a feeling of : arouse
inspires confidence in her followers
3
: inhale
4
: bring about
studies that inspired several inventions
inspirer noun

Medical Definition

inspire

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

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

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