Definition of instinct in US English:



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

    ‘birds have an instinct to build nests’
    ‘maternal instincts’
    • ‘So you can just allow your male/animal instincts to get the better of you and kill your girlfriend/wife?’
    • ‘This instinct caused animals to form close-knit, evenly spaced groups, as seen in real mammal herds and fish schools.’
    • ‘Biologists also are interested in the honey bee's social instincts and behavioral traits.’
    • ‘In Madagascar one character, a lion, must rediscover his predatory instincts to stay alive.’
    • ‘Even you have to surrender to your animal instincts every once in a while.’
    • ‘In our seeking of mates and providing for offspring, we are driven by the same instincts as other animals.’
    • ‘Animal instincts and senses proved to be far more effective than any man-made warning system.’
    • ‘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?’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It's crazy how when dogs go feral, they re-gain all their lost instincts and behavior patterns.’
    • ‘The wildness of nature feeds our primal needs for extra-sensory stimulation and animal instincts.’
    • ‘Surely the instincts that help keep animals in the wild from getting pudgy are available to us as well.’
    • ‘Valentin aims to balance the cubs' need for care and attention with the wild instincts the growing animals need for survival.’
    • ‘This is a sociable little animal with strong maternal instincts.’
    • ‘We make life manageable by creating social institutions that do for us what instincts do for other animals.’
    • ‘As always, his cognitive thought processes were giving way to baser, animal instincts.’
    • ‘Trained by himself from a colt, Adam knew he could always rely on him and trust the animal's instincts.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The meaning of human life would be reduced to the physical, base animal instincts, trapped within the contours of the body.’
    • ‘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’
      • ‘Yet my instincts nonetheless warn me against a hasty campaign to adopt such an amendment.’
      • ‘The simplest form of our self-preservation instinct warns us of these possibilities.’
      • ‘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 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.’
      • ‘I guess if you write stories, it's just an instinct to type at a certain speed.’
      • ‘We should listen to our own instincts, our own intuitions and our own bodies.’
      • ‘Beware of intuition and gut instincts, they are completely unreliable.’
      • ‘Even Liberal backbenchers concede that the Prime Minister's first instincts are authoritarian.’
      • ‘How else to explain what seems to be an instinct to judge the moment and react accordingly?’
      • ‘‘Within seconds it was becoming darker, blacker and thicker and my instinct warned me that the garage was on fire,’ she said.’
      • ‘Your instinct and intuition lead you in a positive direction in personal and professional matters.’
      • ‘She could sit down and analyse her instincts and intuitions and decide it is all nonsense.’
      • ‘It was an intense time for both of us - but all my instincts warned me away from him.’
      • ‘He started to stand again, his instincts unable to warn him this time when a voice came out from beside him.’
      • ‘In truth, the gamble in bringing Doyen back against an instinct to keep him for another season never looked like succeeding.’
      • ‘Her instinct warned her to stay clear of the pope's offer, however transparent its sincerity.’
      • ‘Instead the old instinct to fix was on clear display, deploying all the time-honoured tricks.’
      • ‘She sees a younger version of herself in Rose, especially the way she relies on her instincts and intuition.’
      • ‘It is a web of instincts and intuitions, and known and unknown exchanges.’
      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’
      • ‘As it turns out, having a natural instinct for teaching is sometimes more useful than having real life experience.’
      • ‘That's not patriotism - just the instinct for self preservation.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘But children have a survival instinct for accommodating whatever situation they find themselves in, and even this one begins to normalise around Michele.’
      • ‘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 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.’
      • ‘The interest in the game arises from a natural instinct for attack and defence.’
      • ‘Both possess blistering pace and deceptive ball skills, along with an instinct for goals when given half a chance.’
      • ‘He has a natural instinct for framing an argument.’
      • ‘‘You've certainly not got a natural instinct for this,’ he says in his blunt way.’
      • ‘Calm objectivity combined with idealistic vision results in a genuine interest for scientific ingenuity and a natural instinct for fair-mindedness.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘‘It took years of practice and discipline and a lot of patience for me to develop the instinct for it,’ said Singhania.’
      • ‘The natural instinct for self enhancement of professional status has led most practitioners to subscribe to organisations overtly raising standards.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I had a natural instinct for getting around the golf course, but in hockey, I didn't have a vision for the ice.’
      • ‘To sympathesize with the poor is a natural instinct for the people.’
      • ‘Is this just a natural instinct for self-promotion, or is something deeper going on.’
      • ‘She devoured the fashion magazines and seemed to have a natural instinct for spotting a trend before it happened.’
      talent, gift, ability, capacity, facility, faculty, aptitude, skill, flair, feel, genius, knack, bent
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    3. 1.3 The fact or quality of possessing innate behavior patterns.
      ‘instinct told her not to ask the question’
      • ‘In other words, we possess culture in addition to instinct.’
      • ‘Politicians do this by instinct, particularly when the behaviour they desired is a positive mandate or vote for themselves.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I think that the way that I write stories is by instinct.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘It's a kind of corporate instinct, I think.’
      • ‘I use semicolons solely on the basis of instinct.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘In allowing chance to dictate the making of the image and being totally dependent on instinct, this process becomes interestingly unique.’
      • ‘But it's always been the one room in the house I avoid by instinct.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘It was woman's distinctive moral qualities - feeling and instinct - that were thought to dull her abilities to practice science.’
      • ‘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 he believes it very deeply, he manages by instinct.’
      • ‘Every renunciation of instinct now becomes a dynamic source of conscience and every fresh renunciation increases the latter's severity and intolerance.’
      • ‘I'm used to working with Renu who arrives at a rhythm by instinct, whose first cut is better than most editors' last cut.’
      • ‘But the Americans said instinct might take over.’
      • ‘But his actions on Monday had been purely on 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.’


Pronunciation /inˈstiNGkt//ɪnˈstɪŋkt/
instinct with
  • predicative 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’.