\ ˈi-zəm How to pronounce ism (audio) \

Definition of ism

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory
2 : an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief we all have got to come to grips with our isms— Joycelyn Elders

Definition of -ism (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : 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
2a : 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
3a : doctrine : theory : religion Buddhism
b : adherence to a system or a class of principles stoicism
4 : characteristic or peculiar feature or trait colloquialism

Examples of ism in a Sentence

Noun Cubism, Impressionism, and other artistic isms. ageism, racism, sexism, and all the other familiar isms
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun To make Hamlet an American isn’t easy, because the character is so short on Yankee can-do-ism and so long on European weariness. Virginia Heffernan, Wired, "Hamlet 2000 Has Never Made More Sense," 29 Dec. 2020 Part of this resolve to bring choruses back together extends quite naturally from a long, proud, inbuilt American tradition of obsessive show-must-go-on-ism. Washington Post, "Scattered and silenced by the pandemic, choral groups are trying to find their voice," 6 Nov. 2020 But neighborhood booster-ism seems increasingly beside the point when a simple walk around the block is like something out of Mad Max. Elisa Albert, Longreads, "O! Small-Bany! Part 4: Fall," 28 Apr. 2020 This reflexive both-side-ism appeals to our American egalitarianism. Dan Carsen, al, "Thinking about thinking (without the BS)," 2 Aug. 2020 That's just one dad-ism from my father, Bob Menderski. Maggie Menderski, The Courier-Journal, "Father knows best: Sage wisdom and silly sayings from Louisville dads on this Father's Day," 19 June 2020 Parents and educators play a critical role in helping children of all ages navigate current events and talk openly about the historical roots of the various 'isms in our country. Lisa Selin Davis, CNN, "Kids are born biased but parents can keep it from mutating into racism," 6 June 2020 Exasperated after a decade of isms, his assistant Henry Raymond would flee the Tribune and start his own, more temperate daily, the New York Times. John Strausbaugh, National Review, "Horace Greeley’s Ill-Fated Crusades," 19 Dec. 2019 The trouble, of course, is a mix of NIMBY-ism and good old-fashioned ideas about the American Dream. Margaret Rhodes, Fortune, "The Luminaries—Past and Present—Reimagining the Modern Office," 30 Dec. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of ism


1680, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for ism



Noun suffix

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

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Statistics for ism

Last Updated

7 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.

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How to pronounce -ism (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of ism

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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

English Language Learners Definition of -ism (Entry 2 of 2)

: 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
\ ˌi-zəm \

Kids Definition of -ism

1 : act : practice : process baptism criticism
2 : manner of action or behavior like that of a specified person or thing heroism
3 : state : condition alcoholism
4 : teachings : theory : system socialism

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