ol·​i·​gar·​chy | \ ˈä-lə-ˌgär-kē How to pronounce oligarchy (audio) , ˈō- How to pronounce oligarchy (audio) \
plural oligarchies

Definition of oligarchy

1 : government by the few The corporation is ruled by oligarchy.
2 : a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes a military oligarchy was established in the country also : a group exercising such control An oligarchy ruled the nation.
3 : an organization under oligarchic control That country is an oligarchy.

Keep scrolling for more

Oligarchy and Other Words for Rulers

Oligarchy is one of numerous English words for a type of rule or government. Some of these words, such as plutocracy, have an exceedingly similar meaning (both may be used to refer to rule by an economic elite, but oligarchy often has the additional connotation of corruption). Besides these two, we have meritocracy “a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement,” monarchy “a form of government in which a country is ruled by a king or queen,” ochlocracy “government by the mob," and gerontocracy “rule by elders,” among many others.

Examples of oligarchy in a Sentence

Their nation is an oligarchy. An oligarchy rules their nation. The corporation is ruled by oligarchy.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

After all the movement, the Warriors and LeBron James no longer lead an attention oligarchy. Jacob Feldman, SI.com, "NBA Schedule Makers Must Sort Out A Shuffled League for the 2019–20 Season," 22 July 2019 The resurgence of anti-republican measures in the laboratories of oligarchy, and the Roberts Court’s unwillingness to intervene, cry out for alternatives. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "Make the Guarantee Clause Great Again," 17 July 2019 Is this just the messy forward march of democracy, or evidence of a malign techno-oligarchy? Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker, "Trump’s Very Big, Very Important White House Social-Media Summit," 11 July 2019 If the Legislature can create oligarchies in any field, it’s crony capitalism. Dara Kam, orlandosentinel.com, "Medical marijuana: Florida court strikes down ‘oligopoly’," 10 July 2019 So much for a next generation of players ready to unseat the oligarchy. Jon Wertheim, SI.com, "Eleven Years Later, Federer and Nadal to Meet at Wimbledon Once Again," 10 July 2019 We are now given over to the worst of everything the Founders feared, an oligarchy allied with shadowy foreign autocrats, maneuvering behind readily fabricated crowds and demagogues. Kevin Baker, Harper's magazine, "The Crisis of Our Constitution," 10 Jan. 2019 Just as oligarchy was government by a few powerful nobles, oligopoly is a market dominated by a few powerful businesses, usually corporations. Edward Lotterman, Twin Cities, "Real World Economics: Playing monopoly is more than just rolling the dice," 16 June 2019 Merging fundamental distinctions between corporations and human beings creates the very risk of a dynamic free society collapsing into an oligarchy that the Constitution seeks to prevent. WSJ, "Law, Dartmouth and Corporate Personhood," 10 Feb. 2019

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

See More

First Known Use of oligarchy

1542, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for oligarchy



English Language Learners Definition of oligarchy

: a country, business, etc., that is controlled by a small group of people
: the people that control a country, business, etc.
: government or control by a small group of people

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on oligarchy

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with oligarchy

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for oligarchy

Spanish Central: Translation of oligarchy

Nglish: Translation of oligarchy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about oligarchy

Comments on oligarchy

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


one from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Musical Words Quiz

  • gramophone
  • Which word describes a musical performance marked by the absence of instrumental accompaniment?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!