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

Other Words from instigate

instigation \ ˌin(t)-​stə-​ˈgā-​shən How to pronounce instigate (audio) \ noun
instigative \ ˈin(t)-​stə-​ˌgā-​tiv How to pronounce instigate (audio) \ adjective
instigator \ ˈin(t)-​stə-​ˌgā-​tər How to pronounce instigate (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

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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 stepped into English in the 16th century, after incite and ahead of 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 Target Workers Unite is hoping to instigate exactly that kind of national spread. Bryce Covert, The New Republic, 10 May 2022 Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann is charged with lying to the FBI to instigate an investigation into fanciful evidence about computer links between Russia’s Alfa bank, the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, 3 May 2022 Critics also have accused him of helping instigate the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. Ed Masley, The Arizona Republic, 25 Apr. 2022 Randy Orton finessed his way out of a match against The Usos only to instigate a bait-and-switch where The Usos faced off against The Street Profits. Alfred Konuwa, Forbes, 12 Apr. 2022 By de-clutching the inside rear wheel, the system can effectively direct the rearward torque to the outside wheel, helping to mitigate understeer or instigate the aforementioned drifting antics in the RS Performance drive mode. James Tate, Car and Driver, 1 June 2022 The World Bank proved to be even more pessimistic, cutting its global growth forecast on April 18 to just 3.2%, arguing higher food and fuel costs will instigate a global economic slowdown. Will Daniel, Fortune, 25 Apr. 2022 Now played by Mads Mikkelsen (without addressing the switch) in a more grounded, less cartoonishly menacing vein, Grindelwald is determined to instigate a world war at roughly the same time that a certain Nazi was elected chancellor of Germany. Peter Debruge, Variety, 5 Apr. 2022 Really, who other than economists would believe that placing trillions in the hands of Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy to allocate would instigate growth? John Tamny, Forbes, 1 May 2022 See More

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.

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

20 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Instigate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for instigate


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.

More from Merriam-Webster on instigate

Nglish: Translation of instigate for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of instigate for Arabic Speakers


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