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

Mr Haidt divides political morality into pairs of opposing instincts: loyalty and betrayal, authority and subversion, liberty and oppression, sanctity and degradation, care and harm, fairness and cheating. The Economist, "The L wordWho is a Democrat?," 12 July 2018 Still, Tom watches her father warily – this is instinct, and training. Gary Thompson,, "'Leave No Trace': Father, daughter are homeless, unless home is where the heart is," 11 July 2018 As with so many of Clinton’s instincts, his shift on economic policy came from a sensible place. Neil Swidey,, "How Democrats would be better off if Bill Clinton had never been president," 10 July 2018 Instead, his immediate instinct — one that reflects his long-time immersion in, and relationship to, right-wing media — was to play the victim of a liberal witch hunt. David Roberts, Vox, "Tribalism fueled Scott Pruitt’s rise to power — and the scandals that came with it," 5 July 2018 Strong defensive instincts, both in perimeter matchups and shot-blocking around the rim. Heather Boehm,, "Sixers Select Mikal Bridges With No. 10 Pick in 2018 NBA Draft," 21 June 2018 Even though rubbing your eyes in this case can feel like pure instinct, take a hard pass. Korin Miller, SELF, "Here’s Exactly What to Do If Something’s Stuck in Your Eye," 14 June 2018 But he is guided by long-term instincts, including a desire to surprise people, prove the experts wrong and do things others failed to do. Anchorage Daily News, "Trump says there's no need for extensive preparation before the summit with Kim Jong Un," 10 June 2018 The President launches his assault on the investigation via impulse and instinct, his Twitter blasts inspired and magnified by a feedback loop that injects fringe theories and unfounded suspicions into the mainstream debate about the probe. Tessa Berenson, Time, "Donald Trump’s Campaign to Discredit the Russia Investigation May Be Working. It’s Also Damaging American Democracy," 7 June 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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Phrases Related to instinct

homing instinct

survival instinct

Statistics for instinct

Last Updated

2 Oct 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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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).


evasion of direct action or statement

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