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

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web Tea: Newlyweds will find this trio of teas sourced from around the world inspire wanderlust. Stephanie Cain, Fortune, 12 June 2021 The last two effects are what tend to separate brands or people who inspire cult followings (e.g., SoulCycle) from more malign groups and leaders. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, 10 June 2021 New York City has the kind of model public finance program that should inspire daisies to burst through the sidewalks and larks to sing from every tree that grows in Brooklyn. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 9 June 2021 These incredible beauty creators below aren't afraid to experiment with bold hair and makeup and often inspire trends that eventually take over our feeds while doing so. Devon Abelman, Allure, 8 June 2021 Think about what should be delivered during an event and what can be delivered post-event to reinforce the key takeaways and inspire future touchpoints. Lauren Weatherly, Forbes, 8 June 2021 But the critics may be counting out the sense of adventure that Mr. Bucolo is sure his fire-engine-red vending machine can inspire. New York Times, 7 June 2021 Julia Weber, Implementation Director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the new program in San Francisco will help provide educational tools that may inspire more regular citizens to seek out the orders. Megan Cassidy, San Francisco Chronicle, 4 June 2021 These individuals also take the initiative to grow and develop programs to challenge and inspire students. Sam Boyer, cleveland, 4 June 2021

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.

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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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Learn More About inspire

Time Traveler for inspire

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for inspire

Last Updated

16 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Inspire.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for inspire



English Language Learners Definition of inspire

: to make (someone) want to do something : to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create
: to cause (something) to happen or be created
: to cause someone to have (a feeling or emotion)


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


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


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