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 instigate (audio) \ noun
instigative \ ˈin(t)-​stə-​ˌgā-​tiv How to pronounce instigate (audio) \ adjective
instigator \ ˈin(t)-​stə-​ˌgā-​tər How to pronounce instigate (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

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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 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 The House Ethics Committee has declined to investigate whether Rep. Paul Gosar helped instigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, as a Democratic colleague had suggested in her request for a probe. Ronald J. Hansen, The Arizona Republic, 16 June 2021 This past February, her organization, DecrimNY, helped instigate the repeal of the loitering ban that the officers used to pick her up. New York Times, 23 July 2021 Authorities suspended cellphone internet data service on the island, charging that a campaign orchestrated from the United States used robot messaging on Twitter and other social media to instigate the demonstrations. Andrea Rodriguez, ajc, 22 July 2021 On top of the political factors underpinning loyalist anger, there are also concerns that paramilitary groups may have helped instigate some of the violence in order to retain control of certain areas. NBC News, 21 Apr. 2021 There were no reports of new protests, which the government has sought to blame on Cuban Americans using social media to instigate unrest in Cuba. Compiled Democrat-gazette Staff From Wire Reports, Arkansas Online, 14 July 2021 Roll into the throttle from rest and, by the top of first gear, the V-6 is taxing the tires sufficiently to instigate traction control, which then steps in even more in the wake of the 1-2 upshift. Dave Vanderwerp, Car and Driver, 28 June 2021 Surely, condemning those who instigate anti-Jewish violence should not undermine the cause of Palestinian statehood. The Editors, National Review, 26 May 2021 Racially motivated extremists were determined to be the most likely to instigate mass-casualty attacks against civilians, while militia violent extremists typically target law enforcement and government personnel and facilities. Nicole Sganga, CBS News, 14 May 2021

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

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The first known use of instigate was in 1542

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Last Updated

12 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Instigate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for instigate



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.

More from Merriam-Webster on instigate

Nglish: Translation of instigate for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of instigate for Arabic Speakers


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