ol·​i·​gar·​chy | \ ˈä-lə-ˌgär-kē How to pronounce oligarchy (audio) , ˈō- How to pronounce oligarchy (audio) \
plural oligarchies

Definition of oligarchy

1 : government by the few The corporation is ruled by oligarchy.
2 : a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes a military oligarchy was established in the country also : a group exercising such control An oligarchy ruled the nation.
3 : an organization under oligarchic control That country is an oligarchy.

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Oligarchy and Other Words for Rulers

Oligarchy is one of numerous English words for a type of rule or government. Some of these words, such as plutocracy, have an exceedingly similar meaning (both may be used to refer to rule by an economic elite, but oligarchy often has the additional connotation of corruption). Besides these two, we have meritocracy “a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement,” monarchy “a form of government in which a country is ruled by a king or queen,” ochlocracy “government by the mob," and gerontocracy “rule by elders,” among many others.

Examples of oligarchy in a Sentence

Their nation is an oligarchy. An oligarchy rules their nation. The corporation is ruled by oligarchy.
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Recent Examples on the Web The public has become increasingly aware of and frustrated by corrupt dealings between Mexico’s narrow oligarchy of billionaires and the political class. Nathaniel Parish Flannery, Forbes, "Is President Lopez Obrador Destroying Mexico?," 19 Apr. 2021 Want to imagine life if the public-health oligarchy had free rein? Kimberley A. Strassel, WSJ, "Cruise Ships in the CDC Dock," 15 Apr. 2021 This is not just a shift in our philosophy, but also a rejection of specific hurdles such as literacy tests that have been used as particular tools of racial oppression in American history and as weapons of oligarchy in Latin American history. Dan Mclaughlin, National Review, "Not Everyone Should Be Made to Vote," 31 Mar. 2021 Others worried that a digital oligarchy of big tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, and Amazon with the unchecked power to silence individuals represents a threat to democracy. Malkia Devich-cyril, Wired, "Banning White Supremacy Isn’t Censorship, It’s Accountability," 31 Jan. 2021 The valuations of target companies then explode, too, but street-level investors, once again, are shut out of these stratospheric early gains, which flow to the same impregnable oligarchy. Rana Dasgupta, Harper's Magazine, "The Silenced Majority," 24 Nov. 2020 Many of New York's housewives have links to political oligarchy: the current Housewife and former countess Luann de Lesseps, the former Housewife and former Kennedy spouse Carole Radziwill. Brennan Kilbane, Allure, "Sonja Morgan's Face, According to Sonja Morgan," 13 Nov. 2020 The alternative is in the hands of the progressive insurgents, those truth tellers whose agenda requires deficit spending to promote the public good, and not to feed the ravenous appetites of an entrenched oligarchy and a warfare state. Jackson Lears, The New York Review of Books, "Don’t Wish for a Restoration," 3 Nov. 2020 This is the police force the Southern oligarchy has used and created to protect their interests. Fern Marja Eckman, The New Yorker, "Freedom Day, 1963: A Lost Interview with James Baldwin," 22 Sep. 2020

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

1542, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for oligarchy

Time Traveler

The first known use of oligarchy was in 1542

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Statistics for oligarchy

Last Updated

2 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Oligarchy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oligarchy. Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for oligarchy



English Language Learners Definition of oligarchy

: a country, business, etc., that is controlled by a small group of people
: the people that control a country, business, etc.
: government or control by a small group of people

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