in·​sti·​gate ˈin(t)-stə-ˌgāt How to pronounce instigate (audio)
instigated; instigating

transitive verb

: to goad or urge forward : provoke
instigation noun
instigative adjective
instigator noun

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 stepped into English in the 16th century, after incite and ahead of foment.

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

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 Carlson promoted the unproved theory that the FBI instigated the riots in a documentary that was shown on the Fox Nation streaming service. Stephen Battaglio, Los Angeles Times, 14 Nov. 2023 Meanwhile, local authorities still speak proudly of Florida’s Solid Waste Management Act of 1988, which instigated municipalities’ embrace of WTEs, and of the decadeslong operating contracts that followed. J.j. McCorvey, NBC News, 29 Oct. 2023 As House Republicans started another speaker vote, Matt Gaetz, the Florida congressman who instigated the chaos of the last few weeks, is preemptively declaring victory—and vindication. Molly Ball, WSJ, 25 Oct. 2023 The overturning of the court-martials was instigated by dozens of students – some of them veterans – and several professors at the South Texas College of Law Houston, who collected historical documents and requested a review of the decisions twice, starting in October 2020. Emily Palmer, Peoplemag, 14 Nov. 2023 The collection is the latest installment of Fendi's 'Friends of Fendi' initiative, bringing forth a diverse series of projects and collections instigated by Kim Jones and Silvia Venturini Fendi. Concetta Ciarlo, Vogue, 26 Oct. 2023 Netanyahu’s government routinely blames Iran for instigating events in the region, not always with justification, said Horowitz. Liz Sly, Washington Post, 10 Oct. 2023 Her story exemplifies the monumental change one person can instigate with passion and community backing. David L. Coddon, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Oct. 2023 Roy fired back, noting the electoral success Republicans had in the midterms that followed the 2013 shutdown, which Cruz instigated in hopes of prodding Republicans to defund the Affordable Care Act. Joseph Morton, Dallas News, 18 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'instigate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin instigatus, past participle of instigare — more at stick

First Known Use

1542, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of instigate was in 1542


Dictionary Entries Near instigate

Cite this Entry

“Instigate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


in·​sti·​gate ˈin(t)-stə-ˌgāt How to pronounce instigate (audio)
instigated; instigating
instigation noun
instigator noun

More from Merriam-Webster on instigate

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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