in·​sti·​gate | \ˈin(t)-stə-ˌgāt \
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 \ noun
instigative \ ˈin(t)-​stə-​ˌgā-​tiv \ adjective
instigator \ ˈin(t)-​stə-​ˌgā-​tər \ 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

The two young women experience — or perhaps instigate — an unspecified tragedy. Jennifer Reese, New York Times, "In a Thriller About Girlfriends, Which Femme Is Fatale?," 27 Mar. 2018 Tuoi Tre newspaper said authorities found 57 posts on Vo's Facebook page opposed the Communist Party and instigated people to engage terrorist activities. Fox News, "Man imprisoned in Vietnam for posting dissent on Facebook," 11 May 2018 Right-wing pundits have accused Waters of instigating violence and called for her formal censure. Crystal Marie Fleming, Vox, "Maxine Waters and the trope of the “angry black woman”," 29 June 2018 Handler has instigated many attacks on Trump since the 2016 presidential election -- some based on his policies, and others were personal attacks on Trump and his family members. Sasha Savitsky, Fox News, "Chelsea Handler slams Trump's border policy, claims US will end up like Nazi Germany," 19 June 2018 Rather than interrogating someone’s beliefs or instigating a lively debate, talking about the #MeToo movement should be about listening to people who may not have had a voice on these issues before. Sophia Benoit, GQ, "How to Talk About #MeToo Without Shutting Down the Conversation," 31 May 2018 But Gianforte initially told police that Jacobs instigated the attack, and his campaign spokesman at the time, Shane Scanlon, released a statement saying the same thing. Washington Post, "APNewsBreak: Ethics complaint filed over Gianforte assault," 24 May 2018 But Gianforte initially told police that Jacobs instigated the attack, and his campaign spokesman at the time, Shane Scanlon, released a statement saying the same thing. Matt Volz,, "Democratic Party official calls for ethics probe over Rep. Gianforte's attack on reporter," 24 May 2018 In some cases, Balian appears to have instigated clashes between the two sides, according to court records. Richard Winton,, "Glendale cop tied to Mexican Mafia and Armenian organized crime, federal officials say," 16 May 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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Statistics for instigate

Last Updated

28 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for instigate

The first known use of instigate was in 1542

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More Definitions for instigate



English Language Learners Definition of instigate

: to cause (something) to happen or begin


in·​sti·​gate | \ˈin-stə-ˌgāt \
instigated; instigating

Kids Definition of instigate

: to cause to happen or begin He instigated the fight.

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