[ in-stingkt ]
See synonyms for: instinctinstincts on

  1. an inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action common to a given biological species.

  2. a natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency.

  1. a natural aptitude or gift: an instinct for making money.

  2. natural intuitive power.

Origin of instinct

First recorded in 1375–1425; late Middle English, from Latin instinctus “prompting, instigation, enthusiasm,” noun use of past participle of insting(uere) “to excite, incite, rouse,” from in- in-2 + -stinguere, presumably, “to prick, mark by pricking” (cf. distinct, instigate)

Other words for instinct

Words Nearby instinct

Other definitions for instinct (2 of 2)

[ in-stingkt ]

  1. filled or infused with some animating principle (usually followed by with): instinct with life.

  2. Obsolete. animated by some inner force.

Origin of instinct

First recorded in 1530–40; from Latin instinctus “excited, inspired,” past participle of instinguere “to excite, incite, rouse”; see instinct1 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use instinct in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for instinct


  1. the innate capacity of an animal to respond to a given stimulus in a relatively fixed way

  2. inborn intuitive power

  1. a natural and apparently innate aptitude

  1. rare (postpositive often foll by with)

    • animated or impelled (by)

    • imbued or infused (with)

Origin of instinct

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

Scientific definitions for instinct


[ ĭnstĭngkt′ ]

  1. 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 © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for instinct


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

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