car·​tel | \ kär-ˈtel How to pronounce cartel (audio) \

Definition of cartel

1 : a written agreement between belligerent nations
2 : a combination of independent commercial or industrial enterprises designed to limit competition or fix prices illegal drug cartels
3 : a combination of political groups for common action

Did you know?

The literal meaning of Italian cartello, a derivative of carta, “leaf of paper,” is “placard.” The word is also used for a letter of defiance or a challenge. In this sense the Italian word was borrowed into Middle French as cartel, and the French word was borrowed into English. In English, a cartel was originally a letter of defiance. Later the word came to be used for a written agreement between warring nations to regulate such matters as the treatment and exchange of prisoners. Another type of agreement, a combination of commercial enterprises, is now called a cartel.

Did you know?

A cartel is an organization of a few independent producers for the purpose of improving the profitability of the firms involved. This usually involves some restriction of output, control of price, and allocation of market shares. Members of a cartel generally maintain their separate identities and financial independence while engaging in cooperative policies. Cartels can either be domestic or international. Because cartels restrict competition and result in higher prices for consumers, they are outlawed in some countries. The only industry operating in the U.S. with a blanket exemption from the antitrust laws is major-league baseball.

Examples of cartel in a Sentence

a cartel of oil-producing nations that controls production and influences prices
Recent Examples on the Web Citizens fled for their lives while a fierce gun battle played out in the streets, resulting in victory for the cartel and Ovidio’s release. Wendy Fry, San Diego Union-Tribune, 16 Dec. 2021 Unfortunately for Biden, the oil cartel and its partners declined to take up his demands. Kevin Liptak, CNN, 12 Nov. 2021 Even so, the cartel and its allies stopped short of signaling their plans for after July. David Hodari, WSJ, 1 June 2021 Today a maelstrom of gang and cartel conflict, as well as government and police corruption, continues to sweep up civilians, most of them poor and male. Longreads, 8 Apr. 2021 The most pronounced division is between the Jalisco New Generation cartel and the Familia Michoacana. Washington Post, 3 Dec. 2020 Guerrero, 43, the personal lawyer for a Gulf cartel boss and a U.S. informant, was ambushed the evening of May 22, 2013, at the Southlake shopping center. Tom Steele, Dallas News, 13 Oct. 2020 Other members of that cartel, including the United Arab Emirates, aren’t convinced a pause is necessary, according to these people. Benoit Faucon, WSJ, 24 Nov. 2021 Murrell’s sentencing in federal court in Cincinnati was the latest in a case that involves 13 defendants and that officials say has ties to a Mexican cartel. Kevin Grasha, The Enquirer, 28 Oct. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cartel.' 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 cartel

1692, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for cartel

French, letter of defiance, from Old Italian cartello, literally, placard, from carta leaf of paper — more at card entry 1

Learn More About cartel

Dictionary Entries Near cartel

carte du jour


cartel clock

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Statistics for cartel

Last Updated

15 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Cartel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for cartel



English Language Learners Definition of cartel

: a group of businesses that agree to fix prices so they all will make more money

More from Merriam-Webster on cartel

Nglish: Translation of cartel for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cartel for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about cartel


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