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 instinct (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 Although your natural instinct is to be sociable, try to stay focused and follow through on your tasks. Tribune Content Agency, oregonlive, "Horoscope for Jan. 3, 2021: Gemini, use gentle words; Capricorn, spend time with supportive friends," 3 Jan. 2021 Yet his instinct was to treat that experience not as a learning moment or an opportunity for empathy, but as a chance to portray himself as a Superman who had vanquished the disease. New York Times, "Trump’s Focus as the Pandemic Raged: What Would It Mean for Him?," 31 Dec. 2020 If the dog must go potty, and is brave enough to venture outdoors, put him on a leash and closely supervise him, as unexpected noises may take him by surprise and his instinct may be to run for it! Traci Howerton,, "When it's time to countdown to 2021, count the pets out of the celebration," 22 Dec. 2020 Of course this might be your instinct: If the Big Ten had handled the situation differently in August, these Big Ten games could be postponed, like in other conferences, instead of canceled. Doug Lesmerises, cleveland, "With Ohio State football facing a coronavirus outbreak, what to worry about and not worry about: Doug Lesmerises," 28 Nov. 2020 Ford explained that her first instinct then was to take her camera to the scene. Marc Freeman,, "A mom got arrested for videotaping cops in public. Were her rights violated?," 14 Dec. 2020 So wanting to keep the opposing offense off the field, by converting and milking more clock, as Stefanski wanted; or wanting to put the opposing offense in a bigger hole by going up two touchdowns, as Day wanted, is a natural instinct. Doug Lesmerises, cleveland, "Kevin Stefanski, Ryan Day and the Browns’ and Buckeyes’ strategies of fourth-down aggression: Doug Lesmerises," 1 Dec. 2020 Your first instinct might be to ask how the defense blew a 24-3 lead midway through the third quarter. Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Lions' D’Andre Swift looks like the next Alvin Kamara in win over Washington," 15 Nov. 2020 My first instinct would be to trade the pick, because of this number: 33. Sporting Green Staff,, "Warriors draft roundtable: Keep or trade No. 2 pick? Confidence in Bob Myers?," 14 Nov. 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

17 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Instinct.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jan. 2021.

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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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