oligarchy

noun
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.

Keep scrolling for more

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web The maddening king of fantasy was deposed; the oligarchy of the writers’ room presided. Namwali Serpell, New York Times, "How Social-Media Meme-Makers Rescued ‘Game of Thrones’ From Itself," 6 June 2019 My friends, that is called oligarchy, not democracy. oregonlive, "Who won the Nevada Democratic debate? Vote here," 20 Feb. 2020 Wellington Wells’ repressive oligarchy runs the town from a handful of brutalist monoliths, but the most common threat is random citizens who will spontaneously attack you for things like wearing the wrong clothes in the wrong district. Adi Robertson, The Verge, "We Happy Few is a creepy, fascinating game that gets lost in its own ambition," 10 Aug. 2018 Most countries in the region are no longer controlled by a narrow oligarchy, nor under the yanqui thumb. The Economist, "Time to bury Che Guevara for good," 12 Oct. 2017 In their newly independent nation, the Dutch were mainly led by urban oligarchies comprised of wealthy merchants, unlike other European countries of the era, which were controlled by landed nobility. Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian, "There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever," 18 Sep. 2017 Perhaps Russia’s dire straits, with an imploding economy overseen by a corrupt oligarchy, could have been avoided if Mr. Gorbachev had engineered a smoother transition from dictatorship to democracy, from communism to capitalism. Max Boot, WSJ, "The Cold War’s Tragic Hero," 1 Sep. 2017

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.

See More

First Known Use of oligarchy

1542, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about oligarchy

Time Traveler for oligarchy

Time Traveler

The first known use of oligarchy was in 1542

See more words from the same year

Statistics for oligarchy

Last Updated

11 Apr 2020

Cite this Entry

“Oligarchy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oligarchy. Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for oligarchy

oligarchy

noun
How to pronounce oligarchy (audio) How to pronounce oligarchy (audio)

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on oligarchy

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

WORD OF THE DAY

See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

May 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • a blooming wisteria tree
  • Which is a synonym of exiguous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!