Definition of instinct in English:



Pronunciation /ˈɪnstɪŋ(k)t/
  • 1An innate, typically fixed pattern of behaviour in animals in response to certain stimuli.

    ‘the homing instinct’
    • ‘But was her affection for him, her obvious attraction to him, based solely upon an instinct to reproduce and justify her feminine role in society?’
    • ‘The meaning of human life would be reduced to the physical, base animal instincts, trapped within the contours of the body.’
    • ‘Nowhere in the wild is the maternal instinct more accessible than on the East African savanna, with its panoply of creatures and its wide vistas.’
    • ‘As always, his cognitive thought processes were giving way to baser, animal instincts.’
    • ‘Surely the instincts that help keep animals in the wild from getting pudgy are available to us as well.’
    • ‘This instinct caused animals to form close-knit, evenly spaced groups, as seen in real mammal herds and fish schools.’
    • ‘So you can just allow your male/animal instincts to get the better of you and kill your girlfriend/wife?’
    • ‘In our seeking of mates and providing for offspring, we are driven by the same instincts as other animals.’
    • ‘We make life manageable by creating social institutions that do for us what instincts do for other animals.’
    • ‘In Madagascar one character, a lion, must rediscover his predatory instincts to stay alive.’
    • ‘Valentin aims to balance the cubs' need for care and attention with the wild instincts the growing animals need for survival.’
    • ‘It's crazy how when dogs go feral, they re-gain all their lost instincts and behavior patterns.’
    • ‘Animal instincts and senses proved to be far more effective than any man-made warning system.’
    • ‘The wildness of nature feeds our primal needs for extra-sensory stimulation and animal instincts.’
    • ‘What she found there was the same thing she found in every other vampire's eyes: the cold chill of death and an instinct to kill.’
    • ‘This is a sociable little animal with strong maternal instincts.’
    • ‘Trained by himself from a colt, Adam knew he could always rely on him and trust the animal's instincts.’
    • ‘Biologists also are interested in the honey bee's social instincts and behavioral traits.’
    • ‘Even you have to surrender to your animal instincts every once in a while.’
    • ‘However high we want to place ourselves up the food chain, it can't hide our animal instincts in everyday situations.’
    urge, appetite, desire, need
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    1. 1.1 A natural or intuitive way of acting or thinking.
      ‘they retain their old authoritarian instincts’
      • ‘‘Within seconds it was becoming darker, blacker and thicker and my instinct warned me that the garage was on fire,’ she said.’
      • ‘We should listen to our own instincts, our own intuitions and our own bodies.’
      • ‘Instead the old instinct to fix was on clear display, deploying all the time-honoured tricks.’
      • ‘Yet my instincts nonetheless warn me against a hasty campaign to adopt such an amendment.’
      • ‘She sees a younger version of herself in Rose, especially the way she relies on her instincts and intuition.’
      • ‘I guess if you write stories, it's just an instinct to type at a certain speed.’
      • ‘Your instinct and intuition lead you in a positive direction in personal and professional matters.’
      • ‘In truth, the gamble in bringing Doyen back against an instinct to keep him for another season never looked like succeeding.’
      • ‘It deals with the tensions of the 21st century city in the context of these pervading, seductive, Old World instincts.’
      • ‘They have an intrinsic sense of what is right and just-and an intuitive instinct to solve problems fairly.’
      • ‘How else to explain what seems to be an instinct to judge the moment and react accordingly?’
      • ‘She could sit down and analyse her instincts and intuitions and decide it is all nonsense.’
      • ‘Beware of intuition and gut instincts, they are completely unreliable.’
      • ‘Her instinct warned her to stay clear of the pope's offer, however transparent its sincerity.’
      • ‘The simplest form of our self-preservation instinct warns us of these possibilities.’
      • ‘It is a web of instincts and intuitions, and known and unknown exchanges.’
      • ‘He started to stand again, his instincts unable to warn him this time when a voice came out from beside him.’
      • ‘Even Liberal backbenchers concede that the Prime Minister's first instincts are authoritarian.’
      • ‘I am one of the great army of black youth of this country who feels with the intuitive instinct of the oppressed, that a crisis is imminent.’
      • ‘It was an intense time for both of us - but all my instincts warned me away from him.’
      natural tendency, inborn tendency, inherent tendency, inclination, inner prompting, urge, drive, compulsion, need
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    2. 1.2 A natural propensity or skill of a specified kind.
      ‘his instinct for making the most of his chances’
      • ‘The interest in the game arises from a natural instinct for attack and defence.’
      • ‘She devoured the fashion magazines and seemed to have a natural instinct for spotting a trend before it happened.’
      • ‘‘You've certainly not got a natural instinct for this,’ he says in his blunt way.’
      • ‘To sympathesize with the poor is a natural instinct for the people.’
      • ‘It is well accepted that we don't have to train children to do what is wrong - it appears to be a natural instinct for them to do what is wrong.’
      • ‘Both possess blistering pace and deceptive ball skills, along with an instinct for goals when given half a chance.’
      • ‘He went in search of the cause for the feeling, recognizing it for what it was: a natural instinct for when things went wrong.’
      • ‘He has shown a natural instinct for coaching, slipping into it like a glove.’
      • ‘For example, I've been in the Marines for over half my life and yet I've retained a preternatural instinct for interior design.’
      • ‘But children have a survival instinct for accommodating whatever situation they find themselves in, and even this one begins to normalise around Michele.’
      • ‘‘It took years of practice and discipline and a lot of patience for me to develop the instinct for it,’ said Singhania.’
      • ‘I had a natural instinct for getting around the golf course, but in hockey, I didn't have a vision for the ice.’
      • ‘That's not patriotism - just the instinct for self preservation.’
      • ‘He has a natural instinct for framing an argument.’
      • ‘The natural instinct for self enhancement of professional status has led most practitioners to subscribe to organisations overtly raising standards.’
      • ‘His skills make the link between a strategic overview, an instinct for the telling slogan or soundbite, and an understanding of the nuts and bolts of campaigning.’
      • ‘As it turns out, having a natural instinct for teaching is sometimes more useful than having real life experience.’
      • ‘Is this just a natural instinct for self-promotion, or is something deeper going on.’
      • ‘Calm objectivity combined with idealistic vision results in a genuine interest for scientific ingenuity and a natural instinct for fair-mindedness.’
      • ‘He is a storyteller with an instinct for adventure, humour and darkness and light in the arena of family entertainment rooted in the battle between good and evil.’
      talent, gift, ability, capacity, facility, faculty, aptitude, skill, flair, feel, genius, knack, bent
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    3. 1.3mass noun The fact or quality of possessing innate behaviour patterns.
      ‘instinct told her not to ask the question’
      • ‘I suppose it was instinct really that made me hold on to my bag, stupid really, but I wasn't going to let them have it.’
      • ‘I think that the way that I write stories is by instinct.’
      • ‘In allowing chance to dictate the making of the image and being totally dependent on instinct, this process becomes interestingly unique.’
      • ‘I'm used to working with Renu who arrives at a rhythm by instinct, whose first cut is better than most editors' last cut.’
      • ‘Paul Shanley's cutting edge progressivism turns out to have been a high octane return trip back to the world of dumb beasts acting on instinct.’
      • ‘Every renunciation of instinct now becomes a dynamic source of conscience and every fresh renunciation increases the latter's severity and intolerance.’
      • ‘I use semicolons solely on the basis of instinct.’
      • ‘They march, guided by unerring instinct, to a traditional mating ground with ice thick enough that they can raise their young without any worry of predators.’
      • ‘But it's always been the one room in the house I avoid by instinct.’
      • ‘It's a kind of corporate instinct, I think.’
      • ‘But his actions on Monday had been purely on instinct.’
      • ‘I think he believes it very deeply, he manages by instinct.’
      • ‘It wasn't demeaning, or if it was, it hurt him more, as I came off the carnal innocent, surviving only on instinct not knowledge.’
      • ‘It was woman's distinctive moral qualities - feeling and instinct - that were thought to dull her abilities to practice science.’
      • ‘When the end came for Wenton it followed Harrison unleashing a flurry of punches which had the Liverpudlian back against the ropes attempting to defend himself on instinct alone.’
      • ‘In fact, instinct usually lets you know whether a child is essentially happy with a care arrangement or whether that morning misery will last the rest of the day.’
      • ‘Politicians do this by instinct, particularly when the behaviour they desired is a positive mandate or vote for themselves.’
      • ‘In other words, we possess culture in addition to instinct.’
      • ‘But the Americans said instinct might take over.’
      • ‘A couple of years ago I rolled up for the annual Remembrance service, where the pews were packed with men who by instinct snapped smartly to attention as the hymns were announced.’


Pronunciation /ɪnˈstɪŋ(k)t/
instinct with
  • Imbued or filled with (a quality, especially a desirable one)

    ‘these canvases are instinct with passion’
    • ‘How oft, instinct with warmth divine, thy threshold have I trod!’


Late Middle English (also in the sense ‘instigation, impulse’): from Latin instinctus ‘impulse’, from the verb instinguere, from in- ‘towards’ + stinguere ‘to prick’.