Abstract Background Different conceptualizations of an impulsive suicide attempt (ISA) have not been studied systematically and there is no standard assessment of an ISA. This lack of clarity hinders the advancement of suicidological research and knowledge. The aim of the current study was to examine clinical correlates of different facets of an ISA (reduced proximal contemplation, planning, and decision to act) across divergent methodologies. Methods Participants included 212 recent suicide attempters presenting to a Level 1 trauma hospital. The Suicide Intent Scale and the Timeline Follow-Back Interview for suicide attempts were used to assess different facets of an ISA and their associations with other attempt characteristics, and proximal and distal clinical correlates. Results A large percentage of patients had an ISA using facets of varying severity (ranging from 42% [contemplation] to 85% [decision]). Multivariate analyses revealed unique associations between a particular ISA facet and the following: hopelessness and depressive symptoms (contemplation), subjective expectation of fatality (planning), and acute negative life events (decision). Limitations Validated self-report screening measures were used to assess current psychopathology and future studies should include structured interviews to assess diagnostic features. Conclusions Our results suggest that a fine-grained approach is needed for furthering our understanding of the ISA construct. In light of the current findings, ISA should be seriously considered given clinicians’ task of determining whether a particular patient is at imminent risk for suicide.