Stimulus Meaning: Here’s What it Means and How to Use It

This guide will give you a full understanding of the word stimulus’s meaning. Click here to learn how it’s used in science, the economy, and more.

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We all remember the stimulus payments during the first year of the pandemic. That incredible stimulus package helped many people stay afloat during an incredibly difficult time and relieved some anxiety about their finances. The stimulus served its purpose to effectively stimulate the economy when it was slowing down. But what does the word stimulus mean, and how is it used in other contexts? 

Those are questions that this article is going to answer. With that in mind, the word of the day is stimulus. Here is your guide to the word stimulus, complete with definitions, the history of the word, synonyms, examples in context, and more. 

What Is the Meaning of Stimulus?

The word stimulus (pronounced ˈstim yə ləs) is an incredibly important word. It’s used in various contexts: science, the economy, sociology, and even social interactions. But in all of those different settings, the word still maintains the same definition. 

In recent years, a new definition has come about, although it doesn’t show up in the dictionary. People will often use the word stimulus on its own to refer to the economic stimulus payments that were given out during the height of the pandemic. This economic payment definition is informal, but it is still commonly used in American English.

Here the definition of stimulus — plural stimuli — according to the dictionary.

In informal, economic, or social settings, it inspires activity like an incentive.

  • “Something that rouses or incites to activity, such as an incentive or stimulant”

In a scientific setting, particularly biology, it’s an agent the influences activity in a living organism or part of a living organism.

In reference to the economic impact payment, this means a payment to individuals with the goal of inciting economic activity during a slow period.

In short, a stimulus is something that produces activity in something else. That has certain implications in a biological setting, i.e., visual stimuli producing eye movement, and other implications in an economic setting like a monetary stimulus producing economic activity. 

Where Does the Word Stimulus Come From?

The word stimulus is derived from the Latin stimulus, meaning “to goad, or prick.” The Latin term was mostly used to refer to farmers poking their cattle with a cattle prod to get them to go somewhere or do something the farmer wanted. 

This definition lines up with the earliest English definition of the term. The first known English use of stimulus was in the sixteenth century. At this time, and for the subsequent few centuries, stimulus was used specifically in science to reference a physical object designed to elicit a reaction in a subject. 

However, as scientific understanding grew, the definition of the word shifted. A scientist named Johannes Muller discovered the law of specific energy of sensory nerves. This law changed the human understanding of sensory experience, and a more broad definition was required. 

So, now, a stimulus does not have to be a physical object, but rather, it can be a sound or a change in environment or something else entirely. It is simply something that stimulates sensory receptors.

Examples of Stimulus in a Sentence

To understand how you should use stimulus in writing and conversation, here are some example sentences of the word in action:

The small electric shock stimulus led to the incitement of nervous system activity throughout the body. 

The stimulus did not have the anticipated effect, even though it caused the subject feelings of pain.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the stimulus that led to World War I.

My cousin brought up politics at Thanksgiving dinner, which served as the negative stimulus that caused the great debate.

I finally got my stimulus in the mail on Friday. I needed this money!

Once my stimulus hits my bank account, I’ll be able to pay my rent.

What Are Synonyms of Stimulus?

A thesaurus is quite helpful in understanding what a word means and how to use it. So here’s a list of synonyms for the word stimulus:

  • Boost 
  • Impetus 
  • Incitation 
  • Motivation 
  • Spur 
  • Fillip

Stimulus in Culture 

Throughout the pandemic, the use of the word stimulus skyrocketed dramatically. The stimulus bill was the subject of a great deal of discussion, as there was controversy and debate around how much fiscal stimulus should have been given. Sometimes economic stimulus comes in other forms, such as tax cuts, but the definition adopted from the pandemic refers to direct payments to citizens.

However, now that no more stimulus payments are required, people are not using the word in this context as much. 

Other Forms of Stimulus in Grammar

The word stimulus also serves as the root word for the verb stimulate. To stimulate something is to cause a reaction in something with external stimuli, pronounced ˈstim-​yə-​ˌlī. This word carries essentially the same definition of the noun but in the active form. 

The Final Word

The word stimulus is a perfect example of how language constantly evolves and changes. As new cultural phenomena arise, new definitions are added to words, or the definition changes entirely. This natural part of language is incredibly interesting, and it is important to stay on top of how words are changing every day. 

Now you know how to use the word stimulus in its various forms. Now go and utilize it wherever you see fit, and if you need a refresher, simply come back to this article for the definitions, examples, and synonyms. 


  1. STIMULUS | Cambridge English Dictionary 
  2. A history of the concept of the stimulus and the role it played in the neurosciences | PubMed 
  3. What Is a Stimulus Package? A Conversation with Professor Megan Way | Babson College