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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. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for instinct
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Only the instinct had survived, but the instinct had conquered.

    In the Name of Liberty Owen Johnson
  • Reason or instinct operate also to Society, in all Animals, v.109.

    Essay on Man Alexander Pope
  • The person came and stood over me, and somehow—by instinct, I suppose—I became aware that my visitor was a woman.

    Child of Storm H. Rider Haggard
  • You could know my office by instinct, and be hanged, which you have slandered most abominably.

  • He was searching always for some feasible crossing, for his instinct led him always to get over any barrier.

    The Secret Trails Charles G. D. Roberts
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 American Heritage® 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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