col·​o·​nize | \ ˈkä-lə-ˌnīz How to pronounce colonize (audio) \
variants: also British colonise
colonized; colonizing; colonizes

Definition of colonize

1a transitive + intransitive : to take control of a people or area especially as an extension of state power areas colonized by European powers It [Aléria, France] was, at different times in history, colonized by the Greeks, Etruscans, Carthaginians, and Romans.— Kristina Killgrove Pacific Islanders—Hawaiians, Samoans, the Chamorro of Guam—were and remain colonized by the United States …— Viet Thanh Nguyen Before the U.S.'s occupation of the roughly 7,500 islands, Spain colonized the Philippines and Mexico concurrently for around 300 years …— Amanda Albee As the indigenous people of North America, Native Americans were colonized on their own land, the places to which they trace their social, cultural, and religious origins.— Kate A. Berry et al.
b transitive : to migrate to and settle in (an inhabited or uninhabited area) the areas of New England colonized by the Puritans … the seaside town of Puerto Madryn, named by the Welsh settlers who colonized the few river valleys of Patagonia.— Anita McConnell
c transitive + intransitive
(1) biology, of an organism : to spread to and develop in a new area or habitat … usually the first plant to colonize newly formed sand spits and newly deposited sands on the barrier islands …— Robert H. Mohlenbrock
(2) medical, of a microorganism : to multiply in or on a host or an inanimate object or surface C. diff. is a spore-forming, toxin-producing bacterium that can colonize the large intestine and wreak havoc there …— Jane E. Brody … the bacteria that colonize our gut and play a key role in keeping us healthy.— Katie Hunt Microorganisms, particularly normal skin flora, colonize and form biofilms quickly on catheter surfaces …— Daryl S. Paulson
2 transitive : to take or make use of (something) without authority or right : appropriate Parked cars have colonized city streets for so long that most people assume cars own the curb lane.— Donald Shoup "Before colonizing the artistic and intellectual work of Black people, white people should ask themselves questions such as, how can I contribute to this Black person's wellbeing? Am I studying this work for the explicit purpose of Black liberation, or are my motives fundamentally selfish?"— Amanda Bennett

Synonyms & Antonyms for colonize



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Examples of colonize in a Sentence

The area was colonized in the 18th century. Weeds quickly colonized the field. The island had been colonized by plants and animals.
Recent Examples on the Web Through these ink markings, Heeb identified several collected by Finsch, who traveled across the South Seas between 1879 and 1882 and was instrumental in Germany’s plans to colonize the region. Megan Gannon, Smithsonian Magazine, 16 Feb. 2022 But the plants grew, and that’s a big step for scientists looking to eventually colonize the moon. Joe Mario Pedersen, Orlando Sentinel, 14 May 2022 The ship moved on, and Spain didn’t colonize California until the late 1700s. Los Angeles Times, 5 July 2022 Made mostly of pH-neutral cement, stainless steel, and basalt, the sculpture provides an artificial reef that encourages coral growth and provides a novel place for marine life to colonize and inhabit while steering tourists away from natural reefs. Ross Kenneth Urken, Travel + Leisure, 8 June 2022 The 21st will be defined by human’s endeavor to explore, use, and even colonize the heavens. Charles Beames, Forbes, 31 Aug. 2021 Mickey7 is based on the upcoming novel by author Edward Ashton and centers on Mickey7, a man on an expedition to colonize the ice world Niflheim, THR reports. Alexia Fernández,, 20 Jan. 2022 During the Pennsylvanian era, plants started to colonize dry land by way of more evolved seeds; animals did so through the evolution of the amniotic egg, in which the embryo develops inside a shell, like with birds and reptiles. Rasha Aridi, Smithsonian Magazine, 11 Nov. 2021 But, at the same time, his idea to colonize Mars with a million people is an obscenity. Michael Lapointe, The New Yorker, 26 Apr. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'colonize.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of colonize

1622, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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The first known use of colonize was in 1622

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Last Updated

5 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Colonize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for colonize


col·​o·​nize | \ ˈkä-lə-ˌnīz How to pronounce colonize (audio) \
colonized; colonizing

Kids Definition of colonize

1 : to establish a colony in or on
2 : to settle in a colony


col·​o·​nize | \ ˈkäl-ə-ˌnīz How to pronounce colonize (audio) \
colonized; colonizing; colonizes

Medical Definition of colonize

transitive + intransitive

of a microorganism : to multiply in or on a host or an inanimate object or surface At least half of all Americans over age 30 have gingivitis, a mild inflammation caused by bacterial plaque. Untreated, it may turn into periodontitis, in which bacteria colonize pockets that form between the gums and teeth.— Julia Karow, Scientific American The microbe in question is Candida albicans, a yeast that often harmlessly colonizes patients …— Joan Stephenson, The Journal of the American Medical Association These preparations presumably contain "probiotics," usually meaning strains of Lactobacillus to colonize your intestine and promote bacterial growth.UC Berkeley Wellness Letter Microorganisms, particularly normal skin flora, colonize and form biofilms quickly on catheter surfaces …— Daryl S. Paulson, AORN Journal

Other Words from colonize

colonization \ ˌkäl-​ə-​nə-​ˈzā-​shən How to pronounce colonize (audio) \ noun
asymptomatic wound colonization by staphylococcus … they significantly reduced the rate of bacterial colonization of the devices from 30% to 9% and cut the rate of infection in patients from 4% to 0. — Carol Potera, Science
colonizer noun
Identification of the typical flora in the postoperative ethmoid sinus cavity, as well as a determination of the type of bacteria expected to be colonizers rather than pathogens, would also assist the physician in selecting an appropriate antibiotic. — Neil Bhattacharyya and Harsha V. Gopal, Ear, Nose and Throat Journal

More from Merriam-Webster on colonize

Nglish: Translation of colonize for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of colonize for Arabic Speakers


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