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

Did you know?

It's time to investigate the true meaning of instigate. Instigate is often used as a synonym of incite (as in "siblings instigating a fight"), 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"), while 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"). Coming from a form of the Latin verb instigare ("to urge on or provoke"), instigate stepped into English in the 1500s, roughly a century after incite.

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 Johnson had been Hansen’s first boss and had instigated her research into PFOS. Sharon Lerner, ProPublica, 20 May 2024 When Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida instigated Mr. McCarthy’s removal in October, such a spectacle had not been seen in the chamber since 1910. Kayla Guo, New York Times, 8 May 2024 But attacks on politicians had been on the upswing even earlier, instigated by polarizing language used on social media, which ultimately presents a threat to democracy, say experts. Lenora Chu, The Christian Science Monitor, 23 May 2024 Indeed, the singing is instigated by Victor Laszlo, a Czechoslovakian resistance leader. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 20 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for instigate 

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 23 Jun. 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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