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

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 In addition, each NFL team has some degree of autonomy in managing its internal team issues. Michael Mccann,, "Fallout from Latest Allegations Against Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson," 26 Apr. 2018 Five years on, armed drones and other weapons with varying degrees of autonomy have become far more commonly used by high-tech militaries, including the U.S., Russia, the U.K., Israel, South Korea and China. Billy Perrigo, Time, "A Global Arms Race for Killer Robots Is Transforming the Battlefield," 9 Apr. 2018 Speaking with reporters Monday, Toyota's Pratt cautioned against focusing too much on which level of autonomy each company has achieved. Jc Reindl, Detroit Free Press, "Auto companies race to get drivers out of self-driving cars," 8 Jan. 2018 The ability to be in control of their own fertility and reproduction gave women a profound new autonomy over their own bodies, their health, and their sexuality. Carolyn Todd, Allure, "The History and Evolution of Birth Control in America," 12 July 2018 Yet in neither case did extra autonomy sate nationalist appetites. The Economist, "The siren call of separatism," 12 July 2018 Young people are uniquely and disproportionately affected when bodily autonomy is limited; they often are dismissed when voicing their opinions on their own lives, and have the fewest financial and legal resources to assert their rights. Yamani Hernandez, Teen Vogue, "Abortion Funds Can Help Preserve Reproductive Rights With or Without the Supreme Court," 12 July 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

8 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).


the setting in which something occurs

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