in·​stinct | \ ˈin-ˌstiŋ(k)t How to pronounce instinct (audio) \

Definition of instinct

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity had an instinct for the right word
2a : a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason
b : behavior that is mediated by reactions below the conscious level


in·​stinct | \ in-ˈstiŋ(k)t How to pronounce instinct (audio) , ˈin-ˌstiŋ(k)t \

Definition of instinct (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : profoundly imbued : infused my mood, instinct with romance— S. J. Perelman
2 obsolete : impelled by an inner or animating or exciting agency

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Other Words from instinct


instinctual \ in-​ˈstiŋ(k)-​chə-​wəl How to pronounce instinctual (audio) , -​chəl , -​shwəl , -​chü-​əl \ adjective
instinctually adverb

Examples of instinct in a Sentence

Noun Our first instinct was to run. Cats possess a natural hunting instinct. Seeing the baby aroused all her maternal instincts. He has been guided throughout his career by his political instincts. Mere instinct alerted her to the danger. He knew by instinct what not to say. She seemed to know by instinct that something was wrong. He has a strong survival instinct. an athlete with good instincts
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Did no one even have an instinct for self-preservation? Amy Davidson Sorkin, The New Yorker, "At the White House, Trump Takes Off His Mask and Sends a Dangerous Message," 6 Oct. 2020 Barrera, maybe out of instinct or desperation or a combination of the two, kicked his heel up and deflected the ball. Shawn Mcfarland,, "Hartford Athletic’s Danny Barrera made waves with his impressive goal. But the 30-year-old midfielder is more than just the viral play.," 4 Oct. 2020 With an instinct for the jugular, Trump has picked at the father-son dynamic when unhappy with Chris. David Bauder, Star Tribune, "The only debate moderator to return, Fox's Wallace preps," 28 Sep. 2020 Many politicians’ first instinct was to assume the voters hadn’t really meant it or—better yet—had been misled. Joseph C. Sternberg, WSJ, "If You Lose an Election, You Probably Deserve It," 24 Sep. 2020 She is dedicated to nonfiction as a genre, but has a novelist’s instinct for selection. Dayna Tortorici, The New York Review of Books, "The Desk and the Daring," 22 Sep. 2020 Yet Abiy has been unable to patch the deep ethnic fissures that threaten to tear Ethiopia apart, and has not altered the state’s instinct for violence and repression. The Economist, "Ethnic tensions and state violence Ethiopia’s democratic transition is in peril," 19 Sep. 2020 Trump is a man of instinct, Nixon was all pragmatism. David Harsanyi, National Review, "Dear Richard; Sincerely, Donald," 20 Aug. 2020 While there is often the instinct to just deal with problems, experts advise nipping them in the bud. Rachel Chang, Travel + Leisure, "12 Mistakes to Avoid When Renting a Vacation Home, According to Experts," 20 Sep. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Mr. Hickenlooper’s denouncement could serve to highlight for Mrs. Clinton’s team his instinct to battle the rival nominee, an important role that vice-presidential candidates play for the top of the ticket. Maggie Haberman, New York Times, "Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado Rips Donald Trump’s Reaction to Orlando Shooting," 17 June 2016

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'instinct.' 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 instinct


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1667, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for instinct


Middle English, from Latin instinctus impulse, from instinguere to incite; akin to Latin instigare to instigate

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Learn More about instinct

Time Traveler for instinct

Time Traveler

The first known use of instinct was in the 15th century

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Statistics for instinct

Last Updated

19 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Instinct.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for instinct


How to pronounce instinct (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of instinct

: a way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is not learned : a natural desire or tendency that makes you want to act in a particular way
: something you know without learning it or thinking about it
: a natural ability


in·​stinct | \ ˈin-ˌstiŋkt How to pronounce instinct (audio) \

Kids Definition of instinct

1 : an act or course of action in response to a stimulus that is automatic rather than learned It's a cat's instinct to hunt.
2 : a way of knowing something without learning or thinking about it Her instincts told her to wait.
3 : a natural ability He has an instinct for making money.


in·​stinct | \ ˈin-ˌstiŋ(k)t How to pronounce instinct (audio) \

Medical Definition of instinct

1 : a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason
2 : behavior that is mediated by reactions below the conscious level

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Comments on instinct

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