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 The flight instinct, honed from almost a decade living on the streets, is hard to extinguish. Otis R. Taylor Jr.,, "A homeless couple moved into a $4 million Piedmont home a year ago. It hasn't always been easy," 8 Feb. 2020 Watts flashes the instincts, soft hands and shiftiness required to play slot receiver at a high level. Carter Karels, Indianapolis Star, "Ranking the 17 members of Notre Dame football's 2020 recruiting class," 6 Feb. 2020 Lenny was full of instinct and (Brannox) is patient and calmer. Bill Keveney, USA TODAY, "Pope-pourri: Jude Law, John Malkovich offer dueling takes in HBO's 'The New Pope'," 12 Jan. 2020 The manager’s instincts proved historically correct. Time, "Pitcher Don Larsen, Who Threw Only Perfect Game in World Series History, Dies at 90," 2 Jan. 2020 My instincts as a military law enforcement officer took over. Kim Fundingsland, Twin Cities, "ND hunter stops a mountain lion attack at close range," 27 Dec. 2019 Blessed with extraordinary skills and uncanny instincts, the Nazareth junior quarterback is considered to be one of the best high school quarterbacks in the country. Bob Narang,, "Nazareth’s J.J. McCarthy is the Pioneer Press 2019 Football Offensive Player of the Year," 7 Dec. 2019 But racing for Miles is like flying for a bird: pure instinct and joy. Barbara Vandenburgh, azcentral, "‘Ford v Ferrari’ is a well-oiled entertainment machine," 13 Nov. 2019 Connolly's first was all about instincts, reacting first to the loose ball after Paulo Gazzaniga parried his initial effort, whilst his second was Serge Gnabry-esque., "Fantasy Premier League: The Dream Team From Gameweek 8," 8 Oct. 2019 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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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

20 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Instinct.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 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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