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

The Golden Triangle is a smuggling center, and a sanctuary for members of various ethnic militias that have spent decades pushing for autonomy from a government in Myanmar that routinely represses them. Hannah Beech, The Seattle Times, "For some Thai soccer-team members, cave ordeal was only their latest test," 10 July 2018 Mexico's new president also promised prudent public finances and respect for the central bank’s autonomy. David Agren, USA TODAY, "Mexico's new populist president pledges to work cordially with President Donald Trump," 2 July 2018 But the non-disclosure agreement that Clifford entered into in the weeks before the 2016 election was made with less autonomy. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "Stormy Daniels claims she was threatened by a Trump stooge.," 25 Mar. 2018 Charter schools are technically public schools but with more autonomy. Annysa Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Howard Fuller withdraws proposal to locate charter school at Milwaukee North Division," 16 Mar. 2018 Research by the education-policy scholars Christopher A. Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski showed that allowing schools to operate with total autonomy and no standards could undermine kids’ academic performance. Julie Halpert, The Atlantic, "What If America Didn't Have Public Schools?," 4 Mar. 2018 But James’s career also reveals the limits of labor autonomy in an infrastructure with such a power imbalance. Dylan Scott, Vox, "LeBron James and the NBA teach us a lot about labor in America," 6 July 2018 The 1978 Spanish constitution also ensured the region was given more autonomy, including its own police force, language, education and fiscal rights. James Masters And Claudia Rebaza, CNN, "Basque separatist group ETA announces full dissolution," 2 May 2018 To access aid, Syrian Kurds should also be required to allow non-Kurdish towns within their areas of control a degree of additional local autonomy. Ryan Crocker And, WSJ, "After the Syria Strike, a Strategy," 15 Apr. 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

3 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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