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[in-stingkt] /ˈɪn stɪŋkt/
an inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action common to a given biological species.
a natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency.
a natural aptitude or gift:
an instinct for making money.
natural intuitive power.
Origin of instinct1
late Middle English
1375-1425; late Middle English < Latin instinctus prompting, instigation, enthusiasm, equivalent to *insting(uere) (in- in-2 + *sting(u)ere presumably, to prick; see distinct) + -tus suffix of v. action
3. genius, knack, faculty, talent.


[in-stingkt] /ɪnˈstɪŋkt/
filled or infused with some animating principle (usually followed by with):
instinct with life.
Obsolete. animated by some inner force.
1530-40; < Latin instinctus excited, roused, inspired, past participle of *insting(u)ere; see instinct1 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for instinct
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • She said it, as if guided by an instinct, to sound the depth of his love for her.

    Malbone Thomas Wentworth Higginson
  • What instinct made you choose that shade of pale green for your frock?

    Viviette William J. Locke
  • Was it an instinct, she wondered—a reminder that there was in them material for manhood?

    Ester Ried Yet Speaking Isabella Alden
  • Yet she wondered if the instinct were not dormant, needing but the suggestion.

    Ester Ried Yet Speaking Isabella Alden
  • His instinct of sympathy with which he had greeted her at the outset was repelled, and made of no avail.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
British Dictionary definitions for instinct


noun (ˈɪnstɪŋkt)
the innate capacity of an animal to respond to a given stimulus in a relatively fixed way
inborn intuitive power
a natural and apparently innate aptitude
adjective (ɪnˈstɪŋkt)
(rare) (postpositive) often foll by with
  1. animated or impelled (by)
  2. imbued or infused (with)
Word Origin
C15: from Latin instinctus roused, from instinguere to incite; compare instigate
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for instinct

early 15c., "a prompting," from Latin instinctus "instigation, impulse," noun use of past participle of instinguere "to incite, impel," from in- "on" (see in- (2)) + stinguere "prick, goad," from PIE *steig- "to prick, stick, pierce" (see stick (v.)). Meaning "animal faculty of intuitive perception" is from mid-15c., from notion of "natural prompting." Sense of "innate tendency" is first recorded 1560s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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instinct in Medicine

instinct in·stinct (ĭn'stĭngkt')

  1. An inborn pattern of behavior that is characteristic of a species and is often a response to specific environmental stimuli.

  2. A powerful motivation or impulse.

in·stinc'tive or in·stinc'tu·al (ĭn-stĭngk'chōō-əl) adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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instinct in Science
An inherited tendency of an organism to behave in a certain way, usually in reaction to its environment and for the purpose of fulfilling a specific need. The development and performance of instinctive behavior does not depend upon the specific details of an individual's learning experiences. Instead, instinctive behavior develops in the same way for all individuals of the same species or of the same sex of a species. For example, birds will build the form of nest typical of their species although they may never have seen such a nest being built before. Some butterfly species undertake long migrations to wintering grounds that they have never seen. Behavior in animals often reflects the influence of a combination of instinct and learning. The basic song pattern of many bird species is inherited, but it is often refined by learning from other members of the species. Dogs that naturally seek to gather animals such as sheep or cattle into a group are said to have a herding instinct, but the effective use of this instinct by the dog also requires learning on the dog's part. Instinct, as opposed to reflex, is usually used of inherited behavior patterns that are more complex or sometimes involve a degree of interaction with learning processes.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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instinct in Culture

instinct definition

Behavior that is not learned but passed between generations by heredity.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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