verb in·sti·gate \ ˈin(t)-stə-ˌgāt \
|Updated on: 22 Jul 2018

Definition of instigate

instigated; instigating
: to goad or urge forward : provoke


play \ˌin(t)-stə-ˈgā-shən\ noun


play \ˈin(t)-stə-ˌgā-tiv\ adjective


play \ˈin(t)-stə-ˌgā-tər\ noun

instigate was our Word of the Day on 07/15/2014. Hear the podcast!

Examples of instigate in a Sentence

  1. There has been an increase in the amount of violence instigated by gangs.

  2. The government has instigated an investigation into the cause of the accident.

Recent Examples of instigate from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of instigate

Latin instigatus, past participle of instigare — more at stick

Synonym Discussion of 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

INSTIGATE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of instigate for English Language Learners

  • : to cause (something) to happen or begin

INSTIGATE Defined for Kids


verb in·sti·gate \ ˈin-stə-ˌgāt \

Definition of instigate for Students

instigated; instigating
: to cause to happen or begin
  • He instigated the fight.

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excessive admiration or flattery

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