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Instinctually vs. Instinctively — What's the Difference?

By Fiza Rafique & Maham Liaqat — Updated on March 15, 2024
Instinctually and instinctively both relate to actions driven by instinct, yet they subtly differ in usage and tone.
Instinctually vs. Instinctively — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Instinctually and Instinctively


Key Differences

Instinctually refers to actions or responses that arise from an innate part of one's being, deeply rooted in the natural, primal aspects of an individual or species. Whereas, instinctively tends to be used more broadly, indicating actions taken without conscious thought, driven by an immediate, intuitive response, often based on innate ability or a deeply ingrained habit.
While both terms are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, "instinctually" might be preferred when emphasizing a connection to deeper, more primal instincts tied to survival or fundamental behaviors. On the other hand, "instinctively" might be chosen to describe quick, reflexive reactions to everyday situations, not necessarily linked to survival but to immediate, intuitive understanding or reaction.
"Instinctually" can carry a more profound, sometimes more biological or anthropological connotation, suggesting actions that are a result of evolutionary programming. In contrast, "instinctively" may suggest a broader range of automatic responses, including those developed through personal experience or social conditioning, in addition to innate reflexes.
The choice between "instinctually" and "instinctively" can also be influenced by the context and the speaker's preference for the sound or rhythm of the language, with "instinctively" being more commonly used due to its familiarity and ease of pronunciation.
Despite their nuances, in many contexts, the choice between "instinctually" and "instinctively" comes down to personal preference or stylistic considerations, as the terms are close enough in meaning that they can often be used interchangeably without significant loss of clarity.

Comparison Chart


Deeply rooted, primal instincts
Immediate, reflexive reactions


Emphasizes a connection to fundamental behaviors
Broadly used for quick, intuitive responses


Often biological, anthropological
More general, everyday situations


Suggests profound, innate drives
Implies a wider range of automatic responses


Less commonly used, more specific
More commonly used, easier pronunciation

Compare with Definitions


Arising from deep, primal urges or natural dispositions.
Animals react instinctually to threats in their environment.


Done without conscious thought, as an immediate reaction.
He instinctively caught the falling glass.


Reflecting actions based on inherent tendencies.
She moved instinctually to protect her child.


Responding quickly based on an innate ability.
She instinctively knew the answer to the complex question.


Actions that stem from ingrained survival mechanisms.
Birds migrate south instinctually as winter approaches.


Actions driven by an intuitive sense or feeling.
Instinctively, he ducked as the ball flew towards him.


Guided by the fundamental aspects of one's nature.
Instinctually, he knew not to trust the stranger.


Behaviors developed through experience or habit.
He instinctively checks his email first thing in the morning.


Behaviors that are a result of evolutionary programming.
The wolf's howl is an instinctual call to its pack.


Reflecting quick and automatic responses.
The mother instinctively reached out to grab her wandering child.


In a way that relates to an innate, typically fixed pattern of behaviour; by instinct
I knew instinctually that I had to get out
The ant instinctually tries to fulfil the needs of its community


Without conscious thought; by natural instinct
Elizabeth reacted instinctively in giving him a hug
Some people know instinctively what suits them


Of, relating to, or prompted by instinct.


Of, relating to, or prompted by instinct
An instinctive ability to build a nest.


Arising from impulse or natural inclination.


Arising from impulse or natural inclination; done without thought or conscious effort; spontaneous
An instinctive sympathy for the downtrodden.


In an instinctual way.


Being such by natural inclination rather than conscious effort or study
"Both men were instinctive masters at seizing unexpected openings and turning them into victories" (Nick Kotz).


Innately; by instinct; without being taught.
Fish instinctively know how to swim; most humans don't.


In an instinctive manner; by force of instinct; by natural impulse.


As a matter of instinct;
He instinctively grabbed the knife

Common Curiosities

How does "instinctively" differ from "instinctually"?

It's broader, covering quick, reflexive reactions.

What does "instinctually" imply?

Actions arising from deep, primal urges.

Is "instinctually" more about survival instincts?

Yes, it often emphasizes primal, survival-related behaviors.

Can "instinctually" and "instinctively" be used interchangeably?

Often, but nuances may vary based on context.

What types of actions might be described as "instinctively" done?

Quick, intuitive responses, not necessarily survival-related.

Can learned behaviors become "instinctive"?

Yes, through repetition and habituation, actions can become automatic.

Does "instinctually" suggest a deeper biological basis?

Generally, it implies actions rooted in evolutionary programming.

Does "instinctually" refer only to human behaviors?

No, it can describe behaviors in animals, often related to survival.

Can "instinctually" be linked to emotions?

Yes, especially if those emotions are tied to fundamental, primal instincts.

Is "instinctively" applicable to skills and talents?

Yes, particularly when someone has a natural aptitude for something.

Are "instinctively" reactions always innate?

They can be, but may also develop from personal experience or habit.

Is "instinctually" commonly used in everyday language?

Less so than "instinctively," and it may carry a more specific connotation.

Are all "instinctive" actions unconscious?

Largely, though the term can apply to actions that are semi-conscious but rapid.

How does culture influence "instinctive" behaviors?

Cultural norms and experiences can shape what actions become automatic.

Does the use of "instinctually" imply a scientific context?

It can, especially in discussions of biology or anthropology.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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