What does instinct mean?

Definitions for instinct
ˈɪn stɪŋktin·stinct

Here are all the possible meanings and translations of the word instinct.

Princeton's WordNet

  1. instinct, inherent aptitudeadjective

    inborn pattern of behavior often responsive to specific stimuli

    "the spawning instinct in salmon"; "altruistic instincts in social animals"

  2. instinct(p), replete(p)adjective

    (followed by `with')deeply filled or permeated

    "imbued with the spirit of the Reformation"; "words instinct with love"; "it is replete with misery"


  1. instinctnoun

    A natural or inherent impulse or behaviour.

    Many animals fear fire by instinct.

  2. instinctnoun

    An intuitive reaction not based on rational conscious thought.

    Debbie's instinct was to distrust John.

  3. instinctadjective

    Urged or stimulated from within, infused

  4. Etymology: From instinctus, past participle of instinguere, from in + stinguere

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

  1. Instinctadjective

    Moved; animated. A word not in use.

    Etymology: instinct, Fr. instinctus, Lat.

    Forth rush'd with whirlwind sound
    The chariot of paternal deity,
    Flashing thick flames, wheel within wheel undrawn,
    Itself instict with spirit, but convoy'd
    By four cherubick shapes. John Milton, Par. Lost, b. vi.

  2. INSTINCTnoun

    Desire or aversion acting in the mind without the intervention of reason or deliberation; the power determining the will of brutes.

    Etymology: instinct, Fr. instinctus, Lat. This word had its accent formerly on the last syllable.

    In him they fear your highness' death;
    And mere instinct of love and loyalty
    Makes them thus forward in his banishment. William Shakespeare.

    Thou knowest I am as valiant as Hercules; but beware instinct; the lion will not touch the true prince: instinct is a great matter. I was a coward on instinct: I shall think the better of myself and thee, during my life; I for a valiant lion, and thee for a true prince. William Shakespeare, Henry IV. p. i.

    But providence or instinct of nature seems,
    Or reason though disturb'd, and scarce consulted,
    To have guided me aright. John Milton, Agonist. l. 1545.

    Nature first pointed out my Portius to me,
    And easily taught me by her secret force
    To love thy person, e'er I knew thy merit;
    Till what was instinct grew up into friendship. Addison.

    The philosopher avers,
    That reason guides our deed, and instinct theirs.
    Instinct and reason how shall we divide? Matthew Prior.

    Reason serves when press'd;
    But honest instinct comes a volunteer. Alexander Pope.

Webster Dictionary

  1. Instinctadjective

    urged or stimulated from within; naturally moved or impelled; imbued; animated; alive; quick; as, birds instinct with life

  2. Instinctadjective

    natural inward impulse; unconscious, involuntary, or unreasoning prompting to any mode of action, whether bodily, or mental, without a distinct apprehension of the end or object to be accomplished

  3. Instinctadjective

    specif., the natural, unreasoning, impulse by which an animal is guided to the performance of any action, without of improvement in the method

  4. Instinctadjective

    a natural aptitude or knack; a predilection; as, an instinct for order; to be modest by instinct

  5. Instinctverb

    to impress, as an animating power, or instinct

  6. Etymology: [L. instinctus, p. p. of instinguere to instigate, incite; cf. instigare to instigate. Cf. Instigate, Distinguish.]


  1. Instinct

    Instinct or innate behavior is the inherent inclination of a living organism toward a particular complex behavior. The simplest example of an instinctive behavior is a fixed action pattern, in which a very short to medium length sequence of actions, without variation, are carried out in response to a clearly defined stimulus. Any behavior is instinctive if it is performed without being based upon prior experience, and is therefore an expression of innate biological factors. Sea turtles, newly hatched on a beach, will automatically move toward the ocean. A joey climbs into its mother's pouch upon being born. Honeybees communicate by dancing in the direction of a food source without formal instruction. Other examples include animal fighting, animal courtship behavior, internal escape functions, and the building of nests. All of these are examples of complex behaviors and are thus substantially different from simple reflex behaviors. An instinct should be distinguished from a reflex, which is a simple response of an organism to a specific stimulus, such as the contraction of the pupil in response to bright light or the spasmodic movement of the lower leg when the knee is tapped. Instincts, in contrast, are inborn complex patterns of behavior that must exist in every member of the species and that cannot be overcome by force of will. However, the absence of volitional capacity must not be confused with an inability to modify fixed action patterns. For example, people may be able to modify a stimulated fixed action pattern by consciously recognizing the point of its activation and simply stop doing it, whereas animals without a sufficiently strong volitional capacity may not be able to disengage from their fixed action patterns, once activated.

Chambers 20th Century Dictionary

  1. Instinct

    in′stingkt, n. impulse: an involuntary prompting to action: intuition: the mental aspect of those actions which take rank between unconscious reflex activities and intelligent conduct: the natural impulse by which animals are guided apparently independent of reason or experience.—adj. (in-stingkt′) instigated or incited: moved: animated.—adj. Instinc′tive, prompted by instinct: involuntary: acting according to or determined by natural impulse.—adv. Instinc′tively.—n. Instinctiv′ity (rare). [L. instinctusinstinguĕre, to instigate.]

U.S. National Library of Medicine

  1. Instinct

    Stereotyped patterns of response, characteristic of a given species, that have been phylogenetically adapted to a specific type of situation.

Editors Contribution

  1. instinct

    Intuition or intuitive feeling, knowing or thought.

    He said his instinct told him to carry out acts of kindness towards his fellow human beings to he acted according to his instinct.

    Submitted by MaryC on January 18, 2016  

British National Corpus

  1. Nouns Frequency

    Rank popularity for the word 'instinct' in Nouns Frequency: #2015

How to pronounce instinct?

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  1. Chaldean Numerology

    The numerical value of instinct in Chaldean Numerology is: 8

  2. Pythagorean Numerology

    The numerical value of instinct in Pythagorean Numerology is: 9

Examples of instinct in a Sentence

  1. Kelly Hager:

    Mom, you don't have to do the stairs, when it was just him and me, he had an instinct that he knew he had to be helpful. I feel like that must have been such a burden on him.

  2. Henry Louis Mencken:

    Life without sex might be safer but it would be unbearably dull. It is the sex instinct which makes women seem beautiful, which they are once in a blue moon, and men seem wise and brave, which they never are at all. Throttle it, denaturalize it, take it away, and human existence would be reduced to the prosiac, laborious, boresome, imbecile level of life in an anthill.

  3. Richard Lawhern:

    My instinct is to acknowledge incremental progress, and then get busy forcing the immediate recall and repudiation of the entire [CDC] guidelines document and all state legislation or regulation that incorporates it, we likely wont be able to avoid a rewrite effort for somekind of guideline, because doctors wont reenter pain management practice without a shield from sanctions.

  4. Larry Rosen:

    The hand wave just says we're done, our instinct is we need to close and complete that loop. In person, we can close it with our words, but that doesn't work in a large meeting on Zoom.

  5. Socrates:

    I decided that it was not wisdom that enable poets to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such that you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime message without knowing in the least what they mean

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    the verbal act of urging on
    • A. anestrus
    • B. ventricle
    • C. instigation
    • D. impounding

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