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 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 Court documents show the lawsuit was instigated – and initially funded – by the Oregon Forest & Industries Council trade group and the two companies that buy the most timber off the north coast forests, Hampton Tree Farms and Stimson Lumber. oregonlive, "Failing forestry: The $1 billion lawsuit that could decide the fate of Oregon’s state forests," 27 Oct. 2019 But the attention led to a July meeting, instigated by Prokhortchouk and hosted by Kutsev. Jon Cohen, Science | AAAS, "Embattled Russian scientist sharpens plans to create gene-edited babies," 21 Oct. 2019 That is believed to have led to a confrontation later in the day between Brown and general manager Mike Mayock, instigated by Brown. Matt Kawahara,, "Report: Antonio Brown sought help securing release from Raiders," 8 Sep. 2019 In her remarks, Ms. Hua also accused several organizations, including the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, of instigating violence during the antigovernment protests that have convulsed Hong Kong since June. New York Times, "China Hits Back at U.S. Over Hong Kong Bill in a Mostly Symbolic Move," 2 Dec. 2019 Earlier, the government deported 24 Venezuelan nationals accused of instigating unrest. Rachelle Krygier, Washington Post, "With nationwide strike, Colombia joins South America’s season of protest," 21 Nov. 2019 Paul, of instigating at least part of the investigation by making a complaint against her. Dave Orrick, Twin Cities, "Departing deputy corrections commissioner says she’s under investigation for lobbying on state time. Not true, she says.," 22 July 2019 Between April and November 1919, white mobs instigated more than 30 racial attacks across the country, resulting in hundreds killed of both races in beatings, shootings, public lynchings and burnings. William Lee,, "‘Ready to explode’: How a black boy’s drifting raft triggered a deadly week of riots 100 years ago in Chicago," 19 July 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

21 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Instigate.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 26 January 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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Comments on instigate

What made you want to look up instigate? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to express in a more acceptable way

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