Definition of incubate in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈiNGkyəˌbāt/


[with object]
1(Of a bird) sit on (eggs) in order to keep them warm and bring them to hatching.
Example sentences
  • When most birds incubate eggs, the females often produce high levels of prolactin, a hormone involved in parental behavior.
  • Like the eggs of birds, monotreme eggs are incubated and hatched outside the body of the mother.
  • Both male and female kingfishers incubate the eggs, which take 2 to 4 weeks to hatch.
1.1(Especially in a laboratory) keep (eggs, cells, bacteria, embryos, etc.) at a suitable temperature so that they develop: the samples were incubated at 80°C for three minutes
More example sentences
  • The so-called ‘primary males’ can be produced at high frequency in the laboratory by incubating developing embryos at temperatures between 18° and 20°.
  • The embryos are incubated in the laboratory for an additional two to four days and transferred to the female partner's uterus.
  • The resulting embryos were incubated in 750 ml Zuger bottles at a constant temperature of 28.2 0.2°C until yolk sac resorption.
1.2 (be incubating something) Have an infectious disease developing inside one before symptoms appear: the possibility that she was incubating early syphilis
More example sentences
  • Matthew had still been incubating the disease when he gave blood and my heart goes out to the people who were given it.
  • What about the patient who either withholds this information, does not know his or her health status, or might be incubating an infection without any signs or symptoms?
  • Best Mate did not look himself before the race, and in retrospect he should not have taken part, especially as we now know that he was incubating an infection and started to cough on the way home.
1.3 [no object] Develop slowly without outward or perceptible signs: unfortunately the BSE bug incubates for around three years
More example sentences
  • From there, it had two years to travel the world, incubating and mutating, slowly changing its antigens to take on a more dangerous form.
  • Particularly when you realize that the food has been cooked to your order, not just fished out of a large pot that has been slowly incubating for the past four hours.
  • Sometimes the salad is kept in plastic bags where bugs incubate under artificial supermarket display lights.


Mid 17th century: from Latin incubat- 'lain on', from the verb incubare, from in- 'upon' + cubare 'to lie'.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: in·cu·bate

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