im·​pe·​ri·​al·​ism im-ˈpir-ē-ə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce imperialism (audio)
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
: imperial government, power, or authority: an imperial system
ancient Roman imperialism
imperialist noun or adjective
imperialistic adjective
imperialistically 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.

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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 What Belgium practiced in Africa in the Congo Free State period was not colonialism but imperialism—building an empire of extraction. Christopher Hawthorne, The New Yorker, 12 Sep. 2023 Pope Francis acknowledged on Monday that his recent comments on Russia, seen by Ukraine as praise for imperialism, were badly phrased and said his intention was to remind young Russians of a great cultural heritage and not a political one. Reuters, NBC News, 5 Sep. 2023 In poetic prose, Diop explores fantastical fables and the brutal history of French imperialism. Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times, 28 Aug. 2023 Finley’s film, however, is all about imperialism and bureaucracy. Kaely Monahan, The Arizona Republic, 17 Aug. 2023 Within the right kinds of alliances, Herbst believed, and with the willingness to struggle, was a solution not just to economic inequality but to imperialism and racial prejudice, too. Sarah Watling, Smithsonian Magazine, 8 May 2023 King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands apologized for his country’s role in colonial slave trading, amid a national reckoning over the brutal history of Dutch imperialism, whose legacy still echoes in contemporary society. Niha Masih, Washington Post, 2 July 2023 Sure, ancient Koreans didn’t put Spam in their soup, but cultures have inherently changed throughout history as a product of international relations, imperialism, colonialism and expansionism. Alex Chun, Smithsonian Magazine, 9 June 2023 At the same time, there are issues surrounding the kidnappers, who have roots in Guyana, where a history of imperialism ties into the plot, just under a more modern guise. Brian Lowry, CNN, 13 July 2023 See More

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

Word History


imperial entry 1 + -ism

First Known Use

1684, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of imperialism was in 1684

Dictionary Entries Near imperialism

Cite this Entry

“Imperialism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


im·​pe·​ri·​al·​ism im-ˈpir-ē-ə-ˌliz-əm How to pronounce imperialism (audio)
: the actions by which one nation is able to control other usually smaller or weaker nations
imperialist noun or adjective
imperialistic adjective
imperialistically adverb
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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