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 Some of these behaviors are the result of from health officials, while others are based on instinct and, in some cases, fear. Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times, "Panic buying at L.A. supermarkets amid coronavirus leaves shelves empty, many anxious," 13 Mar. 2020 There’s not many guys that have that kind of instincts and those kind of ball skills. Mark Inabinett |, al, "Locking up Eddie Jackson ‘huge’ for Bears, Chicago GM says," 2 Mar. 2020 First is talent — the creativity, instinct, and skill that separates them from the everyday, amateur makeup applier. Marci Robin, Allure, "The 12 Most-Used Brushes in Top Makeup Artists’ Kits," 29 Feb. 2020 Biden tends to be more relaxed and loose-tongued when there, which simultaneously brings out his best campaign instincts and his worst penchant for flubs. Philip Elliott, Time, "Joe Biden's Last Stand: Why the Former Vice President Needs A Convincing Win in South Carolina," 25 Feb. 2020 The instincts and talent of Ryan O’Halloran set the play in motion, as the senior captain won the draw forward to himself and then found Jay open near the right post. Jim Clark,, "Jack Jay’s late goal lifts Burlington boys’ hockey over Hingham," 23 Feb. 2020 Buscetta’s survival instinct and sense of guilt drive him to Brazil, away from the warfare, watching the hostilities from afar yet unable to escape the long reach of law and treachery. Armond White, National Review, "The Traitor Reimagines the Gangster Film and Modern Morality," 31 Jan. 2020 Some inside the White House viewed him as lacking political instincts and repeatedly giving Trump rosier predictions than other advisers. Washington Post, "Trump lawyer Pat Cipollone was a camera-shy Washington Everyman — until impeachment made him a star," 30 Jan. 2020 Trust your gut Our prompt triggered over 40 responses from women who recommended developing stronger instincts and going with your gut. National Geographic, "On her own: solo women travelers share top tips," 21 Jan. 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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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

2 Apr 2020

Cite this Entry

“Instinct.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Apr. 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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