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

transitive verb

: to goad or urge forward : provoke
instigation noun
instigative adjective
instigator noun

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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 stepped into English in the 16th century, after incite and ahead of foment.

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

Example Sentences

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 Critics also have called him an extremist and have accused him of helping instigate the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. Tirzah Christopher, The Arizona Republic, 26 Oct. 2022 Physically demanding activities like marathons or sports games could also be causing this draining of energy, as a lack of preparation for these kinds of events can instigate unforeseen issues in your body and mind. Chicago Tribune, 19 Oct. 2022 If the first look is any indication, the gang manages to find plenty of time to instigate old feuds and ignite new flings between hitting the slopes in Stowe, Vermont. Julia Meehan, Peoplemag, 23 Sep. 2022 This information can be used to perpetuate or instigate control and psychological or physical fear in the victim. Mike Fong, Forbes, 12 Aug. 2022 But do instigate a discussion (or several) to see if any compromise or change can be made here. Anna Pulley, Chicago Tribune, 9 Aug. 2022 The gist is that some people seek to get hired into a firm to initiate or instigate the establishment of AI Ethics principles in the company. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 13 Aug. 2022 Mark Levin, the talk radio host, scoffed at the notion that Mr. Trump had tried to overturn the election or instigate an insurrection. New York Times, 24 July 2022 Target Workers Unite is hoping to instigate exactly that kind of national spread. Bryce Covert, The New Republic, 10 May 2022 See More

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.

Word History


Latin instigatus, past participle of instigare — more at stick

First Known Use

1542, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of instigate was in 1542


Dictionary Entries Near instigate

Cite this Entry

“Instigate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition



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

More from Merriam-Webster on instigate

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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