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 Those efforts accelerated after the U.S. instigated a trade war. Washington Post, "Why It’s So Hard to Overthrow the Mighty U.S. Dollar," 2 Nov. 2019 Rumors have spread that foreign countries had instigated the demonstrations, and Nasrallah brought similar allegations into the open in a speech a few days ago., "Lebanon’s prime minister to step down - The Boston Globe," 30 Oct. 2019 In this case, though, the number of shows using dead wives or mothers as the main, usually offscreen, character motivator or instigating event for an entire series easily exceeds basic qualifications for trend status. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, "Critic's Notebook: Dead Women, Immigration Stories and Other Fall TV Trends," 16 Oct. 2019 While documentary footage clearly shows the Shah’s security force and Berlin police being the aggressors, West German TV insisted the demonstrators had instigated the confrontation. Los Angeles Times, "Review: ‘A German Youth’ documents the radicalization of the Baader Meinhof Gang," 9 Oct. 2019 There is something almost arbitrary about this scandal instigating impeachment, given the barbarity of Trump and his administration. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Finally," 24 Sep. 2019 Van de Beek is comfortable drifting out wide, instigating Ajax’s forward press, dropping deep to cover and making smart runs into the penalty area, which has enabled him to pop up with 32 goals in 140 matches, also creating a further 25., "Champions League: Picking a Combined XI From Teams in Group H," 17 Sep. 2019 Witnesses who spoke to local media disputed the police statement, claiming that the officer instigated the incident, brandishing his weapon at youths who had done nothing more than gather at a playground. Noga Tarnopolsky,, "Cries of ‘Black Lives Matter’ in Israel after officer fatally shoots unarmed young man of Ethiopian origin," 2 July 2019 Apart from instigating collective challenges, broader public discussion is needed about the transparency, accountability and oversight of data systems required for protecting citizens’ rights. Joanna Redden, Scientific American, "The Harm That Data Do," 1 Nov. 2018

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

11 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Instigate.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 21 November 2019.

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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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Comments on instigate

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