Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Medical
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


noun \ˈi-zəm\

Simple Definition of ism

  • : a belief, attitude, style, etc., that is referred to by a word that ends in the suffix -ism

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of ism

  1. 1 :  a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory

  2. 2 :  an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief <we all have got to come to grips with our isms — Joycelyn Elders>

Examples of ism in a sentence

  1. Cubism, Impressionism, and other artistic isms.

  2. ageism, racism, sexism, and all the other familiar isms

Origin of ism


First Known Use: 1680

Rhymes with ism


noun suffix

Simple Definition of -ism

  • : the act, practice, or process of doing something

  • : behavior like that of a specified kind of person or thing

  • : unfair treatment of a group of people who have a particular quality

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of -ism

  1. 1 a :  act :  practice :  process <criticism> <plagiarism> b :  manner of action or behavior characteristic of a (specified) person or thing <animalism> c :  prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a (specified) attribute <racism> <sexism>

  2. 2 a :  state :  condition :  property <barbarianism> b :  abnormal state or condition resulting from excess of a (specified) thing <alcoholism> or marked by resemblance to (such) a person or thing <giantism>

  3. 3 a :  doctrine :  theory :  religion <Buddhism> b :  adherence to a system or a class of principles <stoicism>

  4. 4 :  characteristic or peculiar feature or trait <colloquialism>

Origin of -ism

Middle English -isme, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French, partly from Latin -isma (from Greek) & partly from Latin -ismus, from Greek -ismos; Greek -isma & -ismos, from verbs in -izein -ize

-ISM Defined for Kids


noun suffix \ˌi-zəm\

Definition of -ism for Students

  1. 1 :  act :  practice :  process <baptism> <criticism>

  2. 2 :  manner of action or behavior like that of a specified person or thing <heroism>

  3. 3 :  state :  condition <alcoholism>

  4. 4 :  teachings :  theory :  system <socialism>

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up ism? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a division or portion of a pool or whole

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of the following best describes an easily irritated person?

superficial flashy tetchy gregarious
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.