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 Up until now, there has been little will to instigate this shift in responsibility for productivity from the person to the organization. Cal Newport, The New Yorker, "The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done," 17 Nov. 2020 This is scary because where efforts by elites to silence dissent have succeeded, things haven’t ended well, even for those who instigate them. Mary Anastasia O’grady, WSJ, "How Free Speech Dies," 25 Oct. 2020 Musico is one of 14 men charged in the plot, which prosecutors say took on various iterations with multiple targets and was meant to instigate a civil war. Darcie Moran, Detroit Free Press, "Whitmer kidnap plot: possible citizen's arrest mentioned in March, prosecutor says," 24 Oct. 2020 Legislation to strengthen enforcement is also certain to instigate a fight with the tech companies, which wield some of the most influential lobbying operations in Washington. David Mclaughlin,, "Washington’s One-Two Antitrust Punch Is About to Smack Big Tech," 13 Oct. 2020 In his emotional TED Talk, the prince encouraged people all over the world to take the climate crisis seriously, and to instigate real change over the next decade as a matter of urgency. Amy Mackelden, Harper's BAZAAR, "Prince William Encourages People Around the World to "Repair Our Planet" in Impassioned TED Talk," 10 Oct. 2020 Authorities said the men's alleged plot was part of a broader mission to instigate a civil war, and the FBI and Michigan's attorney general outlined felony domestic terrorism charges against the group's organizers. Frank Witsil, USA TODAY, "Michigan extremists plotted to kidnap Gov. Whitmer, start civil war. Here's why the state is a 'hotbed' for similar groups," 9 Oct. 2020 The data also tracks when these changes happened and who may have helped instigate them. Kathy Stephenson, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Data reveals what Latter-day Saint leaders talk about at General Conference and how it changes over time," 29 Sep. 2020 But the challenge is to instigate real change, beyond statements and donations, in an industry that has been averse to politics. Washington Post, "When race, fandom and pop-music dollars collide," 23 Sep. 2020

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

22 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Instigate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 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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