au·ton·o·my | \ ȯ-ˈtä-nə-mē \
plural autonomies

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

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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

For example, the state agency pushed for tribes to have autonomy in being able to withdraw water left stored in Lake Mead, while the project wanted to remain in charge of those decisions. Jim Carlton, WSJ, "Falling Lake Mead Water Levels Prompt Detente in Arizona Feud," 7 July 2018 The combination of having schedule control, job autonomy, and a relatively hands-off management approach make for a great work culture and a more motivated, higher performing workforce. Fortune, "Ryan, LLC," 26 June 2018 Instead, the resolution states that non-urgent surgeries must be put on hold until the intersex person can consent and have full bodily autonomy. Elly Belle, Teen Vogue, "California Resolution Urges Doctors to Delay Surgery on Intersex Youth," 12 June 2018 Asperger and his colleagues had a godlike autonomy to determine a child’s worthiness to exist. Edith Sheffer, Time, "Asperger's Syndrome, the Nazi Regime and the Dangerous Power of Labeling People," 26 Apr. 2018 Why do hosts have any autonomy at all, instead of being controlled from a central server? Andrea Valdez, WIRED, "Here's What Needs to Happen in Westworld's Second Season," 20 Apr. 2018 Public charter schools are publicly funded but have more autonomy than traditional public schools in finance, personnel, scheduling, curriculum, instruction and procurement. Trisha Powell Crain,, "Montgomery County's first public charter school to open in August," 12 Feb. 2018 Telegram’s spunky autonomy is refreshing, but the company is practically stateless at a time when large platforms depend heavily on the infrastructure and cooperation of state telecom authorities. Jacob Silverman, Longreads, "Private Telegram, Public Strife," 3 July 2018 Echo Voyager’s latest return to the water off the California coast began about six weeks ago and this time is focusing on more complicated tests of autonomy. Samantha Masunaga,, "Boeing's robot submarine is back roaming off the California coast," 23 June 2018

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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Statistics for autonomy

Last Updated

22 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for autonomy

The first known use of autonomy was circa 1623

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More Definitions for autonomy



English Language Learners Definition of autonomy

: the state of existing or acting separately from others

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


au·ton·o·my | \ -mē \
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 \

Legal Definition of autonomy 

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

Other words from autonomy

autonomous \-məs \ adjective
autonomously adverb

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Comments on autonomy

What made you want to look up autonomy? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to deposit or conceal in a hiding place

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