Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • 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 and Etymology of ism


First Known Use: 1680


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 and Etymology 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).


tending to vanish like vapor

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

  • bride-of-dracula-in-cat-form-surrounded-by-candles-and-somewhat-bewilderingly-orange-sacks-instead-of-surely-much-cheaper-and-easier-to-find-actual-pumpkins
  • Which is a synonym of phlegmatic?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


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