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I am looking for a word that conveys the strongest level of inciting someone, pushing someone to do something:

Their boss VERB'd them to work as hard as possible.

The strongest I can think of is spur, is there something better?

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Just reading the title, I was ready to answer coerce! –  F'x Feb 20 '11 at 20:21

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I can think of inflame, stir up, galvanize, goad, or rouse.

It can be useful to also read the note reported by the NOAD.

The best way to start a riot is to incite one, which means to urge or stimulate to action, either in a favorable or an unfavorable sense. If you instigate an action, however, it implies that you are responsible for initiating it and that the purpose is probably a negative or evil one (the man who instigated the assassination plot).
Foment suggests agitation or incitement over an extended period of time (foment a discussion; foment the rebellion that leads to war). An instigator, in other words, is someone who initiates the idea, while a fomenter is someone who keeps it alive. You can provoke a riot in the same way that you instigate one, but the emphasis here is on spontaneity rather than on conscious design (her statement provoked an outcry from animal rights activists).
To arouse is to awaken a feeling or elicit a response (my presence in the junkyard aroused suspicion), or to open people's eyes to a situation (we attempted to arouse public awareness).
But once you've aroused people, you may have to exhort them, meaning to urge or persuade them, by appealing to their sympathy or conscience, to take constructive action.

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In my little corner of the world, incite is what you get when persuade is turned up to eleven. It's already strong (except, perhaps, in the lyrics to Across the Universe), if more acute than foment. It does have that sometimes undesirable connection with riot, though, which might make it an inappropriate choice for a simple "let's meet the deadline" pep talk. Roused and galvanized [them] into both work for me. –  bye Feb 20 '11 at 19:12
    
+1 especially for goad — this seems the best to me. It has slightly different connotations from the rest, though — the others mostly suggest the boss made them excited about working hard, but goad suggests he persuaded them to work harder than they liked to. –  PLL Feb 20 '11 at 19:26
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I particularly like galvanize –  Matt Эллен Feb 20 '11 at 21:04

My choice would be 'coerced' for that particular sentence. As in 'Foxconn workers were coerced into working beyond their physical and mental limits.'

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I would use prompt, or induce (in the case where the incitation succeeded).

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Exhorted might be the word you seek.

Instructed, impelled, ...

Compelled and forced suggest more than mere words..

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