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 On the fringe of the left there are those who want to overthrow the racist, cisgendered, patriarchal neoliberal oligarchy. David Brooks, Star Tribune, "What will you do if November brings crisis and chaos?," 4 Sep. 2020 As a former senior military intelligence officer told Belton, the KGB once had to serve the oligarchy. Washington Post, "How Putin pushed aside the oligarchs and made Russia his own," 10 July 2020 From 1994 to 2000, when Putin came to power, Russia was an oligarchy. Washington Post, "How Putin pushed aside the oligarchs and made Russia his own," 10 July 2020 Yet Aristotle insists on calling these societies democratic—as do many contemporary defenders of the American system—despite acknowledging their similarity to oligarchies. Corey Robin, The New York Review of Books, "What People Power Looks Like in a Pandemic Democracy," 13 Apr. 2020 Right, but this seems to assume that oligarchy and populism are sort of natural enemies. Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, "Michael Lind on Populism, Racism, and Restoring Democracy," 6 Feb. 2020 The maddening king of fantasy was deposed; the oligarchy of the writers’ room presided. Namwali Serpell, New York Times, "How Social-Media Meme-Makers Rescued ‘Game of Thrones’ From Itself," 6 June 2019 My friends, that is called oligarchy, not democracy. oregonlive, "Who won the Nevada Democratic debate? Vote here," 20 Feb. 2020 Wellington Wells’ repressive oligarchy runs the town from a handful of brutalist monoliths, but the most common threat is random citizens who will spontaneously attack you for things like wearing the wrong clothes in the wrong district. Adi Robertson, The Verge, "We Happy Few is a creepy, fascinating game that gets lost in its own ambition," 10 Aug. 2018

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

Learn More about oligarchy

Time Traveler for oligarchy

Time Traveler

The first known use of oligarchy was in 1542

See more words from the same year

Statistics for oligarchy

Last Updated

10 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Oligarchy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oligarchy. Accessed 29 Sep. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for oligarchy


How to pronounce oligarchy (audio) How to pronounce oligarchy (audio)

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

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).


Test Your Vocabulary

Challenging Vocabulary Quiz Returns!

  • stylized drawing of woman pole vaulting across gap to get trophy
  • Which is a synonym of fuliginous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

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!