im·​pe·​ri·​al·​ism | \ im-ˈpir-ē-ə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce imperialism (audio) \

Definition of imperialism

1 : 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
2 : imperial government, authority, or system

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Other Words from imperialism

imperialist \ im-​ˈpir-​ē-​ə-​list How to pronounce imperialism (audio) \ noun or adjective
imperialistic \ im-​ˌpir-​ē-​ə-​ˈli-​stik How to pronounce imperialism (audio) \ adjective
imperialistically \ im-​ˌpir-​ē-​ə-​ˈli-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce imperialism (audio) \ 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 Their backpacking is another form of imperialism, Charles says before trying to gouge Ajay's eyes out. Jean Bentley,, "R29 Recaps: Every Episode From Netflix’s The Serpent," 6 Apr. 2021 Not the history of American imperialism that is partially responsible for my birth family’s and my presence in this country. Nicole Chung, Time, "My White Adoptive Parents Struggled to See Me as Korean. Would They Have Understood My Anger at the Rise in Anti-Asian Violence?," 22 Mar. 2021 Our sacredness, our ability to love each other fully, is bound up in our complicity with imperialism. Gala Mukomolova,, "The Full Moon In Libra Gives Us A Chance To See Things Clearly," 28 Mar. 2021 Critics denounced this language as rank chauvinism and cultural imperialism. Nile Gardiner, National Review, "Churchill’s Prophetic Warning: ‘An Iron Curtain Has Descended’," 3 Mar. 2021 The countries signed a technology intelligence protection agreement, but the accord fell apart when Brazilian lawmakers began fretting over American imperialism. Washington Post, "A story of slavery — and space," 26 Mar. 2021 There has been criticism across the country about cultural imperialism; that because of the clout that Paris holds over the country, it hadn’t been made to suffer another lockdown before now, as Nice and Dunkirk had. Alex Ledsom, Forbes, "Paris Back In Third Lockdown As Rates Rise And New French Covid-19 Variant Discovered," 18 Mar. 2021 Early in the next century, as the productive capacities of plantation agriculture were gradually exhausted, and the South’s power began to wane in relation to the industrial North, the next chapter in the story was written: imperialism. Rick Perlstein, The New Republic, "The Trump Era Was Always Going to End in Violence," 20 Jan. 2021 This did not go over well on the internet, which quickly pointed out that, for a century, this family was the very image of imperialism. Elise Taylor, Vogue, "Where Does the Monarchy Go From Here?," 16 Mar. 2021

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 2

History and Etymology for imperialism

imperial entry 1 + -ism

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Time Traveler for imperialism

Time Traveler

The first known use of imperialism was in 1684

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Statistics for imperialism

Last Updated

1 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Imperialism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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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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