oligarchy

noun

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

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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.

Example Sentences

Their nation is an oligarchy. An oligarchy rules their nation. The corporation is ruled by oligarchy.
Recent Examples on the Web Before the Civil War, the court was a key ally to the slave-holding oligarchy in the South. Ian Macdougall, Harper’s Magazine , 28 Sep. 2022 But by 2018, even the English were growing uneasy about the oligarchy. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The New Republic, 24 Aug. 2022 As a result, the U.S. is currently more an oligarchy than a democracy. San Diego Union-Tribune, 8 July 2022 Unlike the evil oligarchy of ancient Athens, the A.I. oligopoly set out to do good. Wendell Wallach, Fortune, 16 June 2022 Suffice it to say that the overwhelmingly white professional-class women who don these costumes don’t inhabit a country on the verge of becoming a theocracy or even a patriarchy, but an oligarchy—the harms of which they’ll be relatively spared from. Natalie Shure, The New Republic, 5 May 2022 After the United States overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, white settlers formed an oligarchy of sugar production companies, known as The Big Five, that controlled the Hawaiian islands in the first half of the 20th century. Priscilla Totiyapungprasert, The Arizona Republic, 29 Apr. 2022 Owning a superyacht, the ultimate status symbol, is practically a prerequisite for joining Russia’s oligarchy. Jaclyn Trop, Robb Report, 7 Apr. 2022 Page acknowledges that American oligarchy is different — it is embedded in the political system. New York Times, 6 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

Word History

Etymology

borrowed from Middle French, Late Latin & Greek; Middle French oligarchie, borrowed from Late Latin oligarchia, borrowed from Greek oligarchía, from olig- olig- + -archia -archy

First Known Use

1542, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of oligarchy was in 1542

Dictionary Entries Near oligarchy

Cite this Entry

“Oligarchy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oligarchy. Accessed 29 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition

oligarchy

noun

oli·​gar·​chy
ˈäl-ə-ˌgär-kē,
ˈō-lə-
plural oligarchies
1
: government by the few
2
: a government in which a small group exercises control
also : a group exercising such control
3
: an organization controlled by a small group
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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