au·​ton·​o·​my | \ ȯ-ˈtä-nə-mē How to pronounce autonomy (audio) \
plural autonomies

Essential Meaning of autonomy

1 : the state of existing or acting separately from others : independence a teacher who encourages individual autonomy
2 : the power or right of a country, group, etc., to govern itself The territory has been granted autonomy.

Full Definition of autonomy

1 : the quality or state of being self-governing especially : the right of self-government The territory was granted autonomy.
2 : self-directing freedom and especially moral independence personal autonomy
3 : a self-governing state

Autonomy Has Origins in Law

Since nomos is Greek for "law", something autonomous makes its own laws. The amount of autonomy enjoyed by French-speaking Quebec, or of Palestinians in certain towns in Israel, or of independent-minded regions of Russia, have become major issues. The autonomy of individual states in the United States has posed serious constitutional questions for two centuries. The autonomy of children is almost always limited by their parents. But when those parents are elderly and begin driving poorly and getting confused about their finances, their children may see the need to limit their autonomy in much the same way.

Examples of autonomy in a Sentence

The Catalans take the matter of their language very seriously; it is an outward indication of their autonomy, of their distinction from the rest of Spain. — Polly Evans, It's Not About the Tapas, 2006 The term empire implies more than simple cultural dominance or preeminent military power. It applies to states that use force to occupy and control a group of other states or regions. The conquered states, robbed of autonomy and political independence, become colonies, provinces, or territories of the imperial power. Taxes are levied, laws are imposed, soldiers are conscripted, governors are installed—all without the consent of the subjugated state. — Michael J. Glennon, Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2002 The social payoff of the new knowledge would be new technology, then new industries and new jobs. Compton got nowhere with the administration, partly because he was an anti-New Dealer, partly because the government was unwilling to grant scientists the autonomy that they claimed, and partly because his program represented a trickle-down approach to economic recovery. — Daniel J. Kevles, New Republic, 30 Sept. 2002 Usually, Americans think of freedom as a condition of personal autonomy, independence from the will of others. This way of thinking reflects just the kind of distinction—between oneself and the rest of the group of which one is a part—that Dewey considered false. — Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club, 2001 a teacher who encourages individual autonomy The territory has been granted autonomy.
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Recent Examples on the Web We are not seen as individuals worthy of rights, autonomy, or respect on our own. Nina Jankowicz, Wired, 21 Jan. 2022 Here’s a very brief snapshot: · Elon Musk said Tesla’s autonomous vehicle technology would be capable of Level 5 autonomy – where the vehicle can carry out all driver tasks in any situation – by the end of 2021. Bernard Marr, Forbes, 20 Jan. 2022 Modern bioethics rests on four basic principles to determine whether a procedure is ethical: autonomy, justice, beneficence, and non-maleficence. Jan Dutkiewicz, The New Republic, 20 Jan. 2022 Daniel Pink’s book Drive came out in 2011 and highlighted a new set of employee motivations in the modern workplace, finding autonomy, mastery, and purpose to be more important than company reputation or even compensation. Aman Kidwai, Fortune, 12 Jan. 2022 Nor should the state heedlessly trespass on personal autonomy, including people’s projects and commitments, which often are religious in nature. New York Times, 30 Nov. 2021 Think about what matters most to you in life: autonomy, comfort, health, purpose, something else. Washington Post, 4 Nov. 2021 There is hope: Obtaining a sense of meaning and purpose is therefore a potent antidote -- as are reclaiming a degree of autonomy, control, even creativity within the tasks required. Maria Shine Stewart, cleveland, 25 Oct. 2021 But that process works only when the provider takes the patient’s concerns seriously, devotes adequate time to the conversation, and encourages the patient’s autonomy—conditions that many medical conversations don’t meet. Kate Cray, The Atlantic, 22 Oct. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'autonomy.' 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 autonomy

circa 1623, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for autonomy

see autonomous

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Time Traveler for autonomy

Time Traveler

The first known use of autonomy was circa 1623

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Dictionary Entries Near autonomy

autonomous underwater vehicle



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Statistics for autonomy

Last Updated

25 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Autonomy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for autonomy


au·​ton·​o·​my | \ -mē How to pronounce autonomy (audio) \
plural autonomies

Medical Definition of autonomy

1 : the quality or state of being independent, free, and self-directing
2 : independence from the organism as a whole in the capacity of a part for growth, reactivity, or responsiveness


au·​ton·​o·​my | \ ȯ-ˈtä-nə-mē How to pronounce autonomy (audio) \

Legal Definition of autonomy

: the quality or state of being self-governing especially : the right of self-government

Other Words from autonomy

autonomous \ -​məs How to pronounce autonomy (audio) \ adjective
autonomously adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on autonomy

Nglish: Translation of autonomy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of autonomy for Arabic Speakers


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