instinct

noun
in·​stinct | \ ˈin-ˌstiŋ(k)t How to pronounce instinct (audio) \

Essential Meaning of instinct

1 : 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 Our first instinct was to run. Cats possess a natural hunting instinct. See More ExamplesSeeing the baby aroused all her maternal instincts. The decision was based on (gut) instinct.Hide
2 : something you know without learning it or thinking about it Her instincts told her that something was wrong. [=she believed that something was wrong even though there was no obvious reason to believe it] You have to learn to trust/follow your instincts. [=to trust your feelings about what is right or true even when you cannot be sure that it is right or true] See More ExamplesHe 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.Hide
3 : a natural ability He has a strong survival instinct. an athlete with good instincts

Full 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

instinct

adjective
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

Noun

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 Bears often get burned during wildfires because their instinct is to climb a tree when there’s danger, a biologist said. Justin Ray, Los Angeles Times, 5 Oct. 2021 As for bears, they get burned often during wildfires because their instinct is to climb a tree when there’s danger, Hunnicutt said. Jessica Skropanic, USA TODAY, 3 Oct. 2021 This would have happened 10 years ago, yet my gut instinct is to report this to the school. BostonGlobe.com, 29 Sep. 2021 Tough to gauge right now, but my instinct is some limited player availability next week. Josh Newman, The Salt Lake Tribune, 29 Sep. 2021 This would have happened 10 years ago, yet my gut instinct is to report this to the school. Amy Dickinson, oregonlive, 29 Sep. 2021 This would have happened 10 years ago, yet my gut instinct is to report this to the school. Amy Dickinson, Detroit Free Press, 29 Sep. 2021 This would have happened 10 years ago, yet my gut instinct is to report this to the school. Amy Dickinson, chicagotribune.com, 29 Sep. 2021 Charles — who has gotten caught in several lies about his past by Mabel — understands that good people lie too; therefore, his instinct is to trust Mabel. Carrie Wittmer, Vulture, 15 Sep. 2021 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, 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

Noun

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Adjective

1667, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for instinct

Noun

Middle English, from Latin instinctus impulse, from instinguere to incite; akin to Latin instigare to instigate

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Learn More About instinct

Time Traveler for instinct

Time Traveler

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

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Dictionary Entries Near instinct

instill

instinct

instinction

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Statistics for instinct

Last Updated

20 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Instinct.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/instinct. Accessed 21 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for instinct

instinct

noun
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.

instinct

noun
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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