noun au·ton·o·my \ȯ-ˈtä-nə-mē\

Definition of autonomy



  1. 1 :  the quality or state of being self-governing; especially :  the right of self-government The territory was granted autonomy.

  2. 2 :  self-directing freedom and especially moral independence personal autonomy

  3. 3 :  a self-governing state

Examples of autonomy in a sentence

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. a teacher who encourages individual autonomy

  6. The territory has been granted autonomy.

Did You Know?

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.

Origin and Etymology of autonomy

see autonomous

First Known Use: circa 1623

AUTONOMY Defined for English Language Learners


noun au·ton·o·my \ȯ-ˈtä-nə-mē\

Definition of autonomy for English Language Learners

  • : the state of existing or acting separately from others

  • : the power or right of a country, group, etc., to govern itself

Medical Dictionary


noun au·ton·o·my \-mē\

Medical Definition of autonomy



  1. 1:  the quality or state of being independent, free, and self-directing

  2. 2:  independence from the organism as a whole in the capacity of a part for growth, reactivity, or responsiveness

Law Dictionary


noun au·ton·o·my \ȯ-ˈtä-nə-mē\

Legal Definition of autonomy

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


\-məs\ play adjective



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to cast off or become cast off

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