\ ˈi-zəm How to pronounce ism (audio) \

Definition of ism

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory
2 : an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief we all have got to come to grips with our isms— Joycelyn Elders

Definition of -ism (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : act : practice : process criticism plagiarism
b : manner of action or behavior characteristic of a (specified) person or thing animalism
c : prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a (specified) attribute racism sexism
2a : state : condition : property barbarianism
b : abnormal state or condition resulting from excess of a (specified) thing alcoholism or marked by resemblance to (such) a person or thing giantism
3a : doctrine : theory : religion Buddhism
b : adherence to a system or a class of principles stoicism
4 : characteristic or peculiar feature or trait colloquialism

Examples of ism in a Sentence

Noun Cubism, Impressionism, and other artistic isms. ageism, racism, sexism, and all the other familiar isms
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun But for me, entrepreneurial-ism and building start-ups is one of our values. Bruce Rogers, Forbes, 20 Oct. 2021 Many authoritarian governments spin this reality right into what-about-ism, in which everything is hypocrisy and there is no difference between democratic and authoritarian countries. Justin Sherman, Wired, 20 July 2021 This was, of course, a Vreeland-ism of the finest order, but if Gvasalia continues on his mission of blending couture into the more casual, with women like Emhoff at the top of fashion's new order, her edict might just prove to be true. Olivia Hosken, Town & Country, 7 July 2021 Name an –ism, and Breezewood is likely the prime example of everything wrong with it. Nic Rowan, National Review, 29 May 2021 The thing is, despite Amy’s rather cursory research process — her journalism-ism — the film does at times threaten to hazard a semi-profound observation about our changing relationship to information. Jessica Kiang, Rolling Stone, 13 May 2021 Dear Unpunished: In politics, Neanderthal-ism is in the eye of the beholder. Frank Fellone, Arkansas Online, 24 Apr. 2021 This is of a piece with a distinctly European safety-ism that has dogged the vaccine program since the start. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 19 Mar. 2021 Ageism–like every other ism–is complicated and layered. Sheila Callaham, Forbes, 18 Mar. 2021

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


1680, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for ism



Noun suffix

Middle English -isme, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French, partly from Latin -isma (from Greek) & partly from Latin -ismus, from Greek -ismos; Greek -isma & -ismos, from verbs in -izein -ize

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Last Updated

2 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of ism

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a belief, attitude, style, etc., that is referred to by a word that ends in the suffix -ism


noun suffix

English Language Learners Definition of -ism (Entry 2 of 2)

: the act, practice, or process of doing something
: behavior like that of a specified kind of person or thing
: unfair treatment of a group of people who have a particular quality


noun suffix
\ ˌi-zəm \

Kids Definition of -ism

1 : act : practice : process baptism criticism
2 : manner of action or behavior like that of a specified person or thing heroism
3 : state : condition alcoholism
4 : teachings : theory : system socialism


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