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

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 How to pronounce imperialist (audio) \ noun or adjective
imperialistic \ im-​ˌpir-​ē-​ə-​ˈli-​stik How to pronounce imperialistic (audio) \ adjective
imperialistically \ im-​ˌpir-​ē-​ə-​ˈli-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce imperialistically (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

Neither did Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who has for months said the action at the embassy was a stand against U.S. intervention and imperialism, rather than a show of support for Maduro. Marissa J. Lang, Washington Post, "Activists who occupied Venezuela’s embassy in Washington honored at ceremony in Caracas," 1 Aug. 2019 The dehumanization and torture of people simply seeking a better way of life, fleeing what climate change and American imperialism have wrought, is contra to every purportedly American value. Letter Writers, Twin Cities, "Letters: This is about more than trash. It’s also a civics lesson in St. Paul," 1 Aug. 2019 But the novel also describes her roots in a Germany taken over first by Nazis and then by Soviet occupiers, and gestures at America’s growing imperialism. New York Times, "New & Noteworthy Visual Books, From Maurice Sendak’s Stage Sets to Dogs in Space," 19 July 2019 In Botellita de Jerez/Spin the Bottle, colorful circular patterns of blankets, jergas and bandanas fold over each other like handkerchiefs with an empty Coca-Cola bottle placed at their center as a symbol of U.S. imperialism. Darryl Ratcliff, Dallas News, "Latina artists in Dallas showcase 'were told ‘no,’ and they triumphed anyway’," 25 July 2019 The former two-term Alaska senator, known for his antiwar and anti-imperialism platform, ran an unsuccessful bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination. Los Angeles Times, "More than 700 people have filed to run for president. Why?," 19 July 2019 These were stories in which good Americans lost their individuality and freedom and became incorporated into an evangelical hive mind, reflecting anti-communist fears of Soviet imperialism and collectivism. Noah Berlatsky, The Verge, "In season 3, Stranger Things’ celebration of ’80s pop culture becomes a political ideology," 8 July 2019 Russia’s spiritual imperialism has also diminished the Russian Orthodox Church. Michael Khodarkovsky, WSJ, "Russia Wages a Religious War Against Ukraine," 30 Sep. 2018 Cultural imperialism: Establishing the rules and customs of the ruling class as the norm. The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "Dodgeball is a tool of ‘oppression’ used to ‘dehumanize’ others, researchers argue," 7 June 2019

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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Statistics for imperialism

Last Updated

27 Aug 2019

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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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Comments on imperialism

What made you want to look up imperialism? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


authorized for issue (as a bond)

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