em·​per·​or ˈem-pər-ər How to pronounce emperor (audio)
: the sovereign or supreme male monarch of an empire
emperorship noun

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The words emperor, caesar, czar, and Kaiser all go back to one source: the title of the first Roman emperor, Imperator Caesar Augustus. Augustus was the adopted son of the Roman general and ruler Julius Caesar and he took the name Caesar as part of his official name. Later Roman emperors did the same, and thus caesar came to mean “an emperor of Rome.” The word caesar was borrowed into German and other Germanic languages as Kaiser, which is how we get the word kaiser for “a ruler in Germany.” Through the Russian word tsar, which also came from kaiser, we got our word czar, meaning “a ruler in Russia.” The word emperor can be traced through French to Latin imperator. Imperator was a title given to great Roman generals and meant “commander,” from the verb imperare “to command.”

Examples of emperor in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web One of the oldest (and priciest) pieces is a pendant depicting the Roman emperor Claudius. Rachel Cormack, Robb Report, 13 Sep. 2023 Traditional history depicts Nero as one of the worst emperors Rome ever had. Tom Metcalfe, Scientific American, 9 Aug. 2023 Walter Isaacson—whose biography of Musk is due to be released next month—said the world’s richest man seeks inspiration from French emperor and military dictator Napoleon Bonaparte on how to lead. Bychloe Taylor, Fortune, 15 Aug. 2023 Anthony Hopkins stars as Roman emperor Vespasian in the 10-part series, inspired by the nonfiction book of the same name by Daniel P. Mannix. Scott Roxborough, The Hollywood Reporter, 2 Aug. 2023 Bonaparte would go on to seize political power for himself in a 1799 coup d’état before crowning himself emperor in 1804, which the trailer also appears to depict. Eric Lagatta, USA TODAY, 26 July 2023 One of three clone emperors, Brother Day has recently discovered that his supposedly perfect DNA—a copy of onetime emperor Cleon—was long ago compromised by rebels, leaving his right to rule in question. Marah Eakin, WIRED, 14 July 2023 Despite initially crowning Ron DeSantis as the next Republican presidential nominee, Fox News emperor Rupert Murdoch has started to sour on the Florida governor. Tori Otten, The New Republic, 12 July 2023 The zoo has welcomed many new baby animals this year, including a giraffe, lemurs, emperor tamarin monkeys and an elephant. Lana Ferguson, Dallas News, 11 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'emperor.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English emperour, borrowed from Anglo-French empereor, amperour, going back to Latin imperātōr-, imperātor "person giving orders, commanding officer, title of honor bestowed on a victorious general by his troops, title conferred by the Roman senate on Julius Caesar and Augustus and adopted by later successors," from imperāre "to demand the production of, levy, give orders, exercise authority, hold political power" (from im- in- entry 2 + parāre "to supply, provide, make ready") + -tōr-, -tor, agent suffix — more at pare

Note: See note at pare.

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of emperor was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near emperor

Cite this Entry

“Emperor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/emperor. Accessed 27 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


em·​per·​or ˈem-pər-ər How to pronounce emperor (audio)
: the ruler of an empire

Middle English emperour "emperor," from early French emperur (same meaning), from Latin imperator "commander" (title assumed by Caesar Augustus), from imperare "to command"

Word Origin
The word emperor is a general word for a ruler having total control of a country or region. There are similar words for such all-powerful rulers in various countries: the Caesars in ancient Rome, the czars in Russia, the kaisers in Germany. All these terms go back to one source: the first of the emperors of the Roman lands, known as Imperator Caesar Augustus. Augustus (whose name was really a title, meaning "honorable") was the adopted son of the great Roman general and ruler Julius Caesar. Augustus took the family name Caesar as part of his official name. Later emperors of Rome also used the name Caesar to show that they were heirs to the throne. This is how the word Caesar came to be used to mean "an emperor of Rome." The word Caesar was spelled kaisar and later kaiser in the Germanic languages of Europe. It is from this word that we got our English word kaiser for "a ruler in Germany." Through the Russian word tsar', which also came from the Germanic word kaisar, we got our English word czar, meaning "a ruler in Russia." Use of the word emperor itself can also be traced back to Imperator Caesar Augustus. The Latin word imperator was originally a title given to great Roman generals. The word meant "commander," and it was derived from the verb imperare "to command." It is because Augustus, the first Roman emperor, used imperator as a title that we use emperor as we do today.
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