Verb > Instill

Verb – Instill

This word has Latin roots that mean “to drop in.”

Literally speaking, to instill something is to put it in one drop at a time. Instill two drops of this medicine into each eye.”

And figuratively speaking, to instill something is to put it into someone’s mind or heart little by little, again and again for a long time, as if you’re putting it in one drop at a time.


Part of speech:
Verb, the transitive kind: you instill some quality in someone. Or, flip that around: you instill in someone some quality.

Other forms:
instilled, instilling;
instillation (my preference) or instillment;

How to use it:
This common word generally has a positive tone, even a corny one.

So if you’re willing to risk sounding sentimental or gung-ho, talk about people, actions, words, events, lessons, literature, and experiences that instill good things in people.

What kinds of things? Traits, beliefs, values, feelings, qualities, habits, and behaviors.

More specifically, what kinds of things? Hope, pride, discipline, confidence, optimism, good manners, a strong work ethic, a passion for learning, a sense of gratitude for nature, a respect for human and animal life in all its forms, etc.

Finally, it’s rare, but we can talk about instilling harmful things: doubt in our own potential to succeed, fear of people who don’t look like us, guilt for things we have no control over, and so on. But instilling is usually positive. “Jonas’s parents instilled in him the habit of choosing words with the greatest of precision.”

“My mother was a chef. She was an accountant turned caterer, and she operated the catering company from our one bedroom apartment in the Bronx. So my sister and I had to become her first two employees. That instilled a lot of things in me in an early age: entrepreneurialism, creativity and a passion for food.”
— Kwame Onwuachi, as quoted by D. Watkins, Salon, 18 August 2019

“Stevens was clearly the more pivotal poetic influence, instilling in Lansing a capacity for baroque exuberance. There are passages throughout Heavenly Tree, Northern Earth that evoke Stevens more strongly than any other poetry I’ve read: ‘Dreamer of purified fury and fabulous habit, / your eyes of deserted white afternoons / target, stiffen, riot with unicorn candor.'”
— Garrett Caples, “Casting Spells,” Poetry Foundation, 19 December 2018