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

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 The ripple effect Where GenZ is choosing to spend their time and money is also changing, instigating a domino effect through other industries that have typically banked on alcohol sales to fund their overheads. Eleanor Pringle, Fortune, 9 Feb. 2024 Khalid has been accused, contrary to evidence and logic, of instigating riots in Delhi in 2020. Vaibhav Vats, The Atlantic, 3 Feb. 2024 Even the threat to instigate an impeachment proceeding that would rivet national attention to the border crisis Biden has created would concentrate what’s left of his mind. Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review, 27 Jan. 2024 This reluctance emanates from an outdated belief that the free exchange of proprietary personal health information and health data might erode market position or instigate patient migration to other providers, insurers, or vendors. John C. (jack) Lewin and Jane Delgado, STAT, 18 Jan. 2024 Nor were his two interceptions in the fourth quarter at Minnesota, which may have been instigated by a concussion. Cam Inman, The Mercury News, 14 Jan. 2024 Researchers commonly pin the blame on a colossal asteroid that crashed into modern day Mexico, instigating a climate catastrophe. Jack Knudson, Discover Magazine, 22 Dec. 2023 Some participants speculated that the violence could have been instigating by anti-Trump interlopers. Josh Dawsey, Washington Post, 6 Jan. 2024 As Smothers put it, Comedy Hour didn’t help instigate counterculture sentiment, but reflected it. Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, 27 Dec. 2023 See More

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

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 21 Feb. 2024.

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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