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 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.

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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

11 Apr 2020

Cite this Entry

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

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More Definitions for oligarchy


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

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