in·​sti·​gate | \ ˈin(t)-stə-ˌgāt How to pronounce instigate (audio) \
instigated; instigating

Definition of instigate

transitive verb

: to goad or urge forward : provoke

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Other Words from instigate

instigation \ ˌin(t)-​stə-​ˈgā-​shən How to pronounce instigation (audio) \ noun
instigative \ ˈin(t)-​stə-​ˌgā-​tiv How to pronounce instigative (audio) \ adjective
instigator \ ˈin(t)-​stə-​ˌgā-​tər How to pronounce instigator (audio) \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for instigate

incite, instigate, abet, foment mean to spur to action. incite stresses a stirring up and urging on, and may or may not imply initiating. inciting a riot instigate definitely implies responsibility for initiating another's action and often connotes underhandedness or evil intention. instigated a conspiracy abet implies both assisting and encouraging. aiding and abetting the enemy foment implies persistence in goading. fomenting rebellion

Did You Know?

Instigate is often used as a synonym of incite (as in "hoodlums instigating violence"), but the two words differ slightly in their overall usage. Incite usually stresses an act of stirring something up that one did not necessarily initiate ("the court's decision incited riots"). Instigate implies responsibility for initiating or encouraging someone else's action and usually suggests dubious or underhanded intent ("he was charged with instigating a conspiracy"). Another similar word, foment, implies causing something by means of persistent goading ("the leader's speeches fomented a rebellion"). Deriving from the past participle of the Latin verb instigare, instigate first appeared in English in the mid-16th century, approximately 60 years after incite and about 70 years before foment.

Examples of instigate in a Sentence

There has been an increase in the amount of violence instigated by gangs. The government has instigated an investigation into the cause of the accident.
Recent Examples on the Web Protest leaders urged the crowd to comply with the curfew and avoid those who could potentially instigate more violence. Evie Fordham, Fox News, "DOJ deploys 200 agents to Kenosha amid unrest, following through on Trump promise," 27 Aug. 2020 To deny a cat a litter box reveals the owner’s inability to compromise with a cat’s nature, and even instigate behavioral and medical issues down the line. Candice Wang, Popular Science, "Toilet training your cat isn’t as great as it sounds," 27 Aug. 2020 Far from tamping down the disorder, the president is seeking to aggravate and instigate more protests and more confrontations. Ian Allen, The New Republic, "Donald Trump’s Coded Message to White-Nationalist “Accelerationists”," 12 Aug. 2020 Even after the spear from Ferland, Hartman still had Vancouver's attention with its top agitator, Antoine Roussel, trying to instigate action at the faceoff circle in the final minute of play. Sarah Mclellan, Star Tribune, "Playoffs call for toughness, and Wild is up to the task," 3 Aug. 2020 In the midst of it all, one new brand is here to instigate change from its founding. Brooke Bobb, Vogue, "OffLimits Is a New Cereal Brand for the Conscious Breakfast Lover," 9 July 2020 Branson Dixie Outfitters thanked supporters on Facebook on Wednesday before blaming socialists and anarchists for coming to their store under the guise of a peaceful protest only to instigate violence. Fox News, "Missouri woman filmed saying she'll teach grandkids to hate BLM, vowing 'KKK belief' apologizes after losing job," 25 June 2020 By antagonizing police, destroying property, or intimidating the public by adopting military gear – including weapons – these groups are attempting to instigate violence between the police, protesters and the public. Matthew Valasik, The Conversation, "Why are white supremacists protesting the deaths of black people?," 5 June 2020 The protests turned violent, with criminal agitators using anguish over Floyd’s death to instigate clashes with law enforcement, destroy property, and steal from retail stores that have been shut down for months because of the coronavirus pandemic. David M. Drucker, Washington Examiner, "'The problem, of course, is Trump': Republicans worry president will squander opportunity to calm nation amid unrest," 2 June 2020

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

1542, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for instigate

Latin instigatus, past participle of instigare — more at stick

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Time Traveler for instigate

Time Traveler

The first known use of instigate was in 1542

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Last Updated

23 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Instigate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for instigate


How to pronounce instigate (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of instigate

: to cause (something) to happen or begin


in·​sti·​gate | \ ˈin-stə-ˌgāt How to pronounce instigate (audio) \
instigated; instigating

Kids Definition of instigate

: to cause to happen or begin He instigated the fight.

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