au·​tom·​a·​ton ȯ-ˈtä-mə-tən How to pronounce automaton (audio)
plural automatons or automata ȯ-ˈtä-mə-tə How to pronounce automaton (audio)
: a mechanism that is relatively self-operating
especially : robot
: a machine or control mechanism designed to follow automatically a predetermined sequence of operations or respond to encoded instructions
: an individual who acts in a mechanical fashion
He is an unfeeling automaton.

Did you know?

The idea of the automaton has fascinated people for many centuries. A traveler to the emperor's court in Byzantium in A.D. 949 reported that mechanical birds sat in a golden tree singing the songs of their species; that mechanical lions flanked the throne, roaring and switching their great tails; and that, as he stood watching, the emperor's throne suddenly shot upward toward the high ceiling, and when it slowly descended the emperor was wearing new robes. Early automata (notice the common plural form) often relied on water, steam, or falling weights to power them. Today automata, often called robots, are used in manufacturing plants to build not only vehicles but also much smaller electronic equipment.

Examples of automaton in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web These incongruities remind you that the company’s games are just one big Truman Show, a mechanical charade populated by automatons. Will Bedingfield, WIRED, 8 Sep. 2023 Little automatons toured the country—dolls controlled by clockwork. Alexander Sammon, Harper's Magazine, 8 Apr. 2022 In a world of cookie-cutter pop-music stars and automatons, Sinéad O’Connor was a one-off. George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, 26 July 2023 The chess-playing automaton, dressed in a turban and elaborate Ottoman robes, toured Europe in the closing decades of the 18th century accompanied by its inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen. IEEE Spectrum, 29 June 2023 The 20-inch-tall model of our solar system follows a centuries-long tradition of exquisite automatons that inject awe into the daily lives of a lucky few. Camille Okhio, ELLE Decor, 3 July 2023 Lucero, if nothing else, is a robotic outrage automaton, like many of his contemporaries. Prem Thakker, The New Republic, 27 June 2023 In late 18th-century India, a large automaton depicting a near life-size wooden tiger mauling an Englishman was created for Tipu Sultan, the Muslim ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. Heller McAlpin, The Christian Science Monitor, 13 June 2023 The Voyager Skeleton is by comparison, monochromatic and less theatrical—there are no automatons or chimes. Carol Besler, Robb Report, 14 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'automaton.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


earlier "contrivance with a hidden mechanism that appears to operate on its own," borrowed from Latin automatum, automaton, borrowed from Greek autómaton, noun derivative from neuter of autómatos "of one's own accord, acting without external intervention, natural," from auto- auto- + -matos, going back to Indo-European *mn̥to-, adjective derivative of the verbal base *men- "conceive a thought" (also in Greek mémona "[I] am eager, have in mind, intend," ménos "passion, resolve"), whence also Latin commentus "feigned, fabricated" (past participle of comminīscī "to think up, invent"), Sanskrit matá-, verbal adjective of mányate "(s/he) thinks" — more at mind entry 1

First Known Use

1639, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of automaton was in 1639

Dictionary Entries Near automaton

Cite this Entry

“Automaton.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


au·​tom·​a·​ton ȯ-ˈtäm-ət-ən How to pronounce automaton (audio)
plural automatons or automata -ət-ə How to pronounce automaton (audio)
: a machine that can move by itself
especially : robot sense 1a
: a person who acts in a mechanical way

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