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 After all, those customers may perhaps be the party that can instigate the most change in the end. Yael Grauer, Ars Technica, "Why is the healthcare industry still so bad at cybersecurity?," 9 Feb. 2020 The woman said that, at 3 p.m. Jan. 20, her boyfriend, 20, returned to their home in an agitated state and instigated an argument. cleveland, "Man arrested for hitting girlfriend; his mother also arrested for trying to get at the girlfriend: Cleveland Heights police blotter," 25 Jan. 2020 In Dehghani’s case, customs officials revoked his visa, instigated his immediate and expedited removal, and placed a five-year ban on his return, the immigration official said. Tonya Alanez,, "Criticism intensifies over detention, rejection of Iranian Northeastern student," 23 Jan. 2020 The letters are usually about four pages, with notes on the previous and upcoming games, a photo or two, and some instigating trash talk. Rusty Simmons,, "49ers’ George Kittle unflinching about facing stingy Minnesota defense," 8 Jan. 2020 In July 2017, the six-time Olympic gold medalist was cleared of all charges surrounding the incident, with the court deciding that Lochte hadn’t broken the law because Rio police instigated the investigation, not the swimmer. Eric Todisco,, "Ryan Lochte Tears Up as He Says 2016 Rio Olympics Incident 'Changed My Entire Life'," 11 Nov. 2019 But videos emerging from the autonomous Chinese territory showed the mayhem being instigated from all angles. Fox News, "Hong Kong protester shot at close range, counterprotester set on fire in latest escalation of violence," 11 Nov. 2019 This month, when the Donald Trump campaign circulated an advertisement that instigated a false rumor about presidential candidate Joe Biden, Facebook declined to take the ad down. Wired, "See, Facebook? Twitter Proves You Can Ban Political Ads," 30 Oct. 2019 Internet access, data and shutdowns As the race to bridge the global digital divide continues, internet shutdowns in Africa, mainly instigated by dictators, remain a stumbling block. Yomi Kazeem, Quartz Africa, "The biggest trends in African tech and startups in 2019," 30 Dec. 2019

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

18 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Instigate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 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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