in·​stinct | \ˈin-ˌstiŋ(k)t \

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, 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, -​chəl, -​shwəl, -​chü-​əl \ adjective
instinctually adverb

Examples of instinct in a Sentence


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

And there is always the possibility that the Trumps themselves will seek to form a political dynasty, as those with authoritarian instincts often do. Mark Schmitt, Vox, "Is dynastic politics on the way out?," 20 Nov. 2018 At the same time, Akane is a woman with motherly instincts to protect Sakura, so there are these two conflicting dimensions to her character. Jane Hu, GQ, "The Japanese actress talks about playing a robot geisha in Shogun World.," 21 May 2018 This discounting of international systems, very much in keeping with Trump’s instincts as a nationalist, bilateral dealmaker, could easily ignite a new age of nuclear proliferation. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "Is This the Dawn of a New Era of Nuclear Proliferation?," 15 May 2018 Rosary coach Megan Tracy went with her instincts Monday at Oswego. Rick Armstrong, Aurora Beacon-News, "Battlin' Brooke: Freshman pitcher Brooke Capparelli wiggles out of trouble as Rosary tops Oswego," 15 May 2018 Rookie Desmond King, the Chargers' fifth-round pick, excelled in the slot, showing toughness and tackling with terrific instincts. Dan Woike,, "Chargers have cornerbacks, but safety is a need," 15 Apr. 2018 But the instinct to attempt to put yourself in others shoes is a fundamentally good one. Jennifer Wright, Harper's BAZAAR, "Why Men Need to Say Sorry More," 31 July 2018 And, of course, defending and rebounding, which is where the instincts are innate for the big man out of Kentucky. Ira Winderman,, "Bam Adebayo leaving Heat with both questions, answers in summer league," 12 July 2018 By following his instincts about what to focus on, Harrell has garnered an enviable following. Jenice Armstrong,, "Instagram's No Gun Zone is out to make Philly's mean streets safer | Jenice Armstrong," 11 July 2018

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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Statistics for instinct

Last Updated

11 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for instinct

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

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More Definitions for instinct



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 \

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 \

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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More from Merriam-Webster on instinct

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with instinct

Spanish Central: Translation of instinct

Nglish: Translation of instinct for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of instinct for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about instinct

Comments on instinct

What made you want to look up instinct? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to make faulty or ineffective

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