para·​mil·​i·​tary ˌper-ə-ˈmi-lə-ˌter-ē How to pronounce paramilitary (audio)
: of, relating to, being, or characteristic of a force formed on a military pattern especially as a potential auxiliary military force
a paramilitary border patrol
paramilitary training
paramilitary noun

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This term paramilitary can take in a wide range of organizations, but is usually applied to forces formed by a government. Groups opposing a government, even when organized along military lines, are more often referred to as guerrillas or insurgents. In countries with weak central governments (such as, in recent times, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, or Congo), warlords may form their own paramilitary forces and take over all local police and military functions. Paramilitary often has a sinister sound today, since it's also applied to groups of off-duty military or police personnel who carry out illegal violence, often at night, with the quiet support of a government.

Examples of paramilitary in a Sentence

Government forces have been attacked by heavily armed paramilitary groups in several villages.
Recent Examples on the Web Its members wear a signature red beret and often dress in paramilitary garb. Ben Brasch, Washington Post, 8 Feb. 2024 The war that erupted in April 2023 between Sudan’s Armed forces and the paramilitary RSF has created the world’s largest displacement crisis, with children making up nearly 4 million of those fleeing their homes. Nimi Princewill, CNN, 8 Feb. 2024 Some of the younger generation, for example, raised in the shadow of violence, now tried to position themselves as loyal to the Zionist movement and were recruited to do intelligence work for the Jewish paramilitary forces. Emily Bazelon, New York Times, 1 Feb. 2024 Born to Catholic parents in Germany in 1900, Rudolf fought in World War I before joining a nationalist paramilitary group. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 4 Jan. 2024 Iran’s paramilitary forces are providing real-time intelligence to Yemen’s Houthis that the rebels are using to direct drones and missiles to target ships passing through the Red Sea, Western and regional security officials said. Benoit Faucon, WSJ, 22 Dec. 2023 Those who seized the public defender have been described alternately as a gang, a paramilitary group or official Venezuelan personnel. Jeremy Childs, Los Angeles Times, 21 Dec. 2023 The director shares enough of Colombia’s history of civil war, paramilitary violence and politics to ground the film, though a quick search-engine refresher on Colombia’s bitter and lethal politics on the viewer’s part wouldn’t hurt and can add to her appreciation of what Márquez achieves. Lisa Kennedy, Variety, 27 Jan. 2024 In addition to attacks by Hezbollah and the Houthis, Iraqi and Syrian paramilitary groups have launched well over 150 attacks against U.S. military and diplomatic facilities in Iraq and Syria. Ali Vaez, Foreign Affairs, 25 Jan. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'paramilitary.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1935, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of paramilitary was in 1935

Dictionary Entries Near paramilitary

Cite this Entry

“Paramilitary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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