Definition of instinct in English:



  • 1An innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli.

    ‘birds have an instinct to build nests’
    ‘maternal instincts’
    • ‘Animal instincts and senses proved to be far more effective than any man-made warning system.’
    • ‘This is a sociable little animal with strong maternal instincts.’
    • ‘Valentin aims to balance the cubs' need for care and attention with the wild instincts the growing animals need for survival.’
    • ‘This instinct caused animals to form close-knit, evenly spaced groups, as seen in real mammal herds and fish schools.’
    • ‘We make life manageable by creating social institutions that do for us what instincts do for other animals.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Surely the instincts that help keep animals in the wild from getting pudgy are available to us as well.’
    • ‘Biologists also are interested in the honey bee's social instincts and behavioral traits.’
    • ‘So you can just allow your male/animal instincts to get the better of you and kill your girlfriend/wife?’
    • ‘Even you have to surrender to your animal instincts every once in a while.’
    • ‘In Madagascar one character, a lion, must rediscover his predatory instincts to stay alive.’
    • ‘Trained by himself from a colt, Adam knew he could always rely on him and trust the animal's instincts.’
    • ‘The meaning of human life would be reduced to the physical, base animal instincts, trapped within the contours of the body.’
    • ‘The wildness of nature feeds our primal needs for extra-sensory stimulation and animal instincts.’
    • ‘It's crazy how when dogs go feral, they re-gain all their lost instincts and behavior patterns.’
    • ‘However high we want to place ourselves up the food chain, it can't hide our animal instincts in everyday situations.’
    • ‘In our seeking of mates and providing for offspring, we are driven by the same instincts as other animals.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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?’
    • ‘As always, his cognitive thought processes were giving way to baser, animal instincts.’
    1. 1.1A natural or intuitive way of acting or thinking.
      ‘they retain their old authoritarian instincts’
      • ‘Even Liberal backbenchers concede that the Prime Minister's first instincts are authoritarian.’
      • ‘The simplest form of our self-preservation instinct warns us of these possibilities.’
      • ‘Instead the old instinct to fix was on clear display, deploying all the time-honoured tricks.’
      • ‘I guess if you write stories, it's just an instinct to type at a certain speed.’
      • ‘It is a web of instincts and intuitions, and known and unknown exchanges.’
      • ‘It deals with the tensions of the 21st century city in the context of these pervading, seductive, Old World instincts.’
      • ‘Yet my instincts nonetheless warn me against a hasty campaign to adopt such an amendment.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘She sees a younger version of herself in Rose, especially the way she relies on her instincts and intuition.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘They have an intrinsic sense of what is right and just-and an intuitive instinct to solve problems fairly.’
      • ‘He started to stand again, his instincts unable to warn him this time when a voice came out from beside him.’
      • ‘She could sit down and analyse her instincts and intuitions and decide it is all nonsense.’
      • ‘Your instinct and intuition lead you in a positive direction in personal and professional matters.’
      • ‘Beware of intuition and gut instincts, they are completely unreliable.’
      • ‘We should listen to our own instincts, our own intuitions and our own bodies.’
      • ‘It was an intense time for both of us - but all my instincts warned me away from 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.’
      natural tendency, inborn tendency, inherent tendency, inclination, inner prompting, urge, drive, compulsion, need
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    2. 1.2A natural propensity or skill of a specified kind.
      ‘his instinct for making the most of his chances’
      • ‘Both possess blistering pace and deceptive ball skills, along with an instinct for goals when given half a chance.’
      • ‘I had a natural instinct for getting around the golf course, but in hockey, I didn't have a vision for the ice.’
      • ‘Calm objectivity combined with idealistic vision results in a genuine interest for scientific ingenuity and a natural instinct for fair-mindedness.’
      • ‘He went in search of the cause for the feeling, recognizing it for what it was: a natural instinct for when things went wrong.’
      • ‘‘It took years of practice and discipline and a lot of patience for me to develop the instinct for it,’ said Singhania.’
      • ‘Is this just a natural instinct for self-promotion, or is something deeper going on.’
      • ‘As it turns out, having a natural instinct for teaching is sometimes more useful than having real life experience.’
      • ‘But children have a survival instinct for accommodating whatever situation they find themselves in, and even this one begins to normalise around Michele.’
      • ‘She devoured the fashion magazines and seemed to have a natural instinct for spotting a trend before it happened.’
      • ‘For example, I've been in the Marines for over half my life and yet I've retained a preternatural instinct for interior design.’
      • ‘That's not patriotism - just the instinct for self preservation.’
      • ‘‘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.’
      • ‘The natural instinct for self enhancement of professional status has led most practitioners to subscribe to organisations overtly raising standards.’
      • ‘He has a natural instinct for framing an argument.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The interest in the game arises from a natural instinct for attack and defence.’
      • ‘He has shown a natural instinct for coaching, slipping into it like a glove.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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. 1.3The fact or quality of possessing innate behavior patterns.
      ‘instinct told her not to ask the question’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘It was woman's distinctive moral qualities - feeling and instinct - that were thought to dull her abilities to practice science.’
      • ‘I think that the way that I write stories is by instinct.’
      • ‘In other words, we possess culture in addition to instinct.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Every renunciation of instinct now becomes a dynamic source of conscience and every fresh renunciation increases the latter's severity and intolerance.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I think he believes it very deeply, he manages by instinct.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I use semicolons solely on the basis of instinct.’
      • ‘It's a kind of corporate instinct, I think.’
      • ‘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.’


  • [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- toward + stinguere to prick.