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

Definition of imperialism

1 see usage paragraph below : 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 … late nineteenth-century imperialism was constituted through and legitimized by a set of complex discourses that exoticized others and positioned European states as better than and often obligated to "assist" those others through political, cultural, and economic interventions.— Mona Domosh … World War II, when powers like the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands were looking at the end of their globe-spanning empires, while simultaneously seeing the expansion of imperialism in countries like Japan.— George Yang broadly : the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence … as the Hollywood movies had already proved, American cultural imperialism was not only too big to fight, it was too seductive to ignore. — Clive James
2 : imperial government, power, or authority: an imperial system ancient Roman imperialism

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

Usage of Colonialism and Imperialism

In contexts dealing with the domination of a people or area by a foreign power, colonialism and imperialism are often used together with no real distinction in meaning. Used separately, however, each of these words can take on a slightly different emphasis. Colonialism comes from colony, and tends to be applied in contexts addressing the effects that colonialism has on the lives of those living in colonies. Imperialism is closely related to empire and therefore tends to place more emphasis on the ruling power and its intent to expand its dominion, as well as on the expanded empire itself, with its distinct parts subsumed under the banner of the dominating force.

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 the net 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 Those men died beholden to a fantasy of British imperialism, sleepers all sharing the same dream. Colin Dickey, Longreads, 30 Mar. 2022 Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist focused on Asian American media representation, previously explained that these images grew alongside U.S. imperialism and occupation of Asia and the Pacific. NBC News, 23 Mar. 2022 Monaghan is believed to be the first Washington resident to attend the United States Naval Academy and served in the Navy at the height of US imperialism in the 1890s, historian Lawrence Cebula said. Harmeet Kaur, CNN, 20 Oct. 2021 Much of this capitalist system, Mayer explains, revolves around the potential for exploitation in countries that have been destabilised by colonial violence and imperialism. Amanda Randone,, 29 Apr. 2021 At the same time, Walesa said the world’s nations now face an opportunity to curb Russia’s long tradition of political corruption and imperialism. Don Stacom, Hartford Courant, 11 May 2022 Painted in 1840 to coincide with a major antislavery conference in London, Turner’s ultimate seascape imbued the sublime with the ferocity of colonialism and imperialism. Jason Farago, New York Times, 7 Apr. 2022 For centuries, the Bible and other Christian teachings have been used to justify slavery and imperialism. NBC News, 3 Apr. 2022 The sixth clock, the time ball in Cape Town, is mostly used to set up a discussion of the evils of slavery and imperialism. Chad Orzel, Forbes, 28 Jan. 2022 See More

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.

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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The first known use of imperialism was in 1684

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Dictionary Entries Near imperialism

imperial green



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Last Updated

25 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Imperialism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2022.

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