im·​pe·​ri·​al·​ism | \im-ˈpir-ē-ə-ˌli-zəm \

Definition of imperialism 

1 : imperial government, authority, or system

2 : the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas broadly : the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence union imperialism

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Other Words from imperialism

imperialist \im-​ˈpir-​ē-​ə-​list \ noun or adjective
imperialistic \im-​ˌpir-​ē-​ə-​ˈli-​stik \ adjective
imperialistically \im-​ˌpir-​ē-​ə-​ˈli-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē \ adverb

Linguistic Roots of Imperialism

The original meaning of imperialism was a simple one: "imperial government," that is, empire in the classical sense (such as existed in ancient Rome, China, and Greece). In more recent times, imperialism has become synonymous with western hegemony in Africa and Asia from the 18th through the 20th centuries and with the spreading cultural influence of the United States. Formerly implying military and governmental dominance, the word today is often invoked in a wider variety of contexts, such as cultural imperialism, media imperialism, and economic imperialism. And while there has been considerable debate about net the effects of western dominance in other parts of the world, in its current use, imperialism often carries a negative connotation.

Examples of imperialism in a Sentence

British imperialism created the enormous British Empire.

Recent Examples on the Web

So my name is a combination of Spanish colonialism and American imperialism. Eric Johnson, Recode, "Full Q&A: ‘Dear America’ author Jose Antonio Vargas on Recode Decode," 24 Nov. 2018 These young folks have valid reasoning for deciding not to play further into U.S. capitalism, imperialism, and white supremacy. Clarissa Brooks, Teen Vogue, "Nonvoters Have Valid Criticisms of the United States Government," 16 Nov. 2018 Germans are often too direct and sometimes too anti-American for me (discussions about American imperialism and German nationalism can sour fast). Adam H. Graham, Condé Nast Traveler, "The Perfect Long Weekend in Bavaria," 17 Sep. 2018 Despite Franklin’s efforts, this publishing imperialism tended to stunt the growth of indigenous publishing in many countries. Amanda Laugesen, Smithsonian, "This Cold War-Era Publishing House Wanted To Share American Values With the World," 13 July 2018 But opponents argue that the new test – which starts with AD 1450 – eliminates valuable opportunities to study non-Western cultures before European imperialism. Noble Ingram, The Christian Science Monitor, "AP test debate: How much world history should high-schoolers know?," 22 June 2018 Meanwhile, certain sectors of the left have long held the idea of human rights in suspicion, seeing it as merely a fig leaf for Western imperialism, a way for powerful countries to take charge of the affairs of the less powerful. Adam Kirsch, WSJ, "‘Not Enough’ Review: Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There," 19 Apr. 2018 Could Georgia and Ukraine still rely on American military might to keep them safe from Russian imperialism? Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Ends NATO Summit by Announcing a Diplomatic Breakthrough That Did Not Happen," 12 July 2018 As alternative deciding factors, scholars have offered everything from religion to natural resources, high labor prices to imperialism. Heather Souvaine Horn, The New Republic, "A System in Denial," 16 Apr. 2018

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

1684, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for imperialism

imperial entry 1 + -ism

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Last Updated

3 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for imperialism

The first known use of imperialism was in 1684

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More Definitions for imperialism



English Language Learners Definition of imperialism

: a policy or practice by which a country increases its power by gaining control over other areas of the world

: the effect that a powerful country or group of countries has in changing or influencing the way people live in other, poorer countries

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More from Merriam-Webster on imperialism

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with imperialism

Spanish Central: Translation of imperialism

Nglish: Translation of imperialism for Spanish Speakers

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

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