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

Naturally, Human Rights Watch and other critics castigate Israel for failing to give the Palestinians more autonomy. Elliot Kaufman, WSJ, "The Palestinians’ Worst Enemy Is Their Own Leaders," 30 Oct. 2018 Women were forced to reproduce under a regime that dictated moral, racial, and religious rules for them, thus denying them moral autonomy, a political voice, and true religious liberty. Rickie Solinger, Vox, "This is what life was like for women in America before Roe v. Wade," 7 Sep. 2018 The goal is to give plants a bit more autonomy, overcoming their static nature in favor of better adapting to their environments. Alex Bazeley, Curbed, "Meet the sun-chasing robot with a plant on its back," 13 July 2018 Season two plays out across multiple jumbled timelines, extending the show’s discussion of autonomy, freedom, and personal authenticity. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "Puzzled by Westworld? Look to Shakespeare.," 26 June 2018 Through the foundation's Exodus program -- which was given near-autonomy by the U.S. immigration service -- as many as 10,000 Cuban exiles were allowed to resettle in the United States from third countries. Christopher Marquis, miamiherald, "Jorge Mas Canosa dead at 58," 15 June 2018 The most important was a 1979 statute of autonomy, which laid out the governmental structure of the region and explicitly recognized the existence of a separate Basque identity. Meg Bernhard,, "With independence a far-fetched dream, Basque Country activists downsize their ambitions," 15 June 2018 The Judson church has a long association with support of women's rights and bodily autonomy - in the days before Roe V. Wade the clergy there assisted women in obtaining safe abortions., "On International Whores Day, Sex Workers Took A Stand Against SESTA/FOSTA," 5 June 2018 Doing so will give teachers the autonomy to respond to their students’ individual needs. Patricia Jennings, Fortune, "Commentary: Here’s What We Can Do to Empower America’s Teachers," 7 May 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

17 Nov 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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a private place of worship

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