pa·​tron·​ize ˈpā-trə-ˌnīz How to pronounce patronize (audio) ˈpa- How to pronounce patronize (audio)
patronized; patronizing

transitive verb

: to act as patron of : provide aid or support for
The government patronized several local artists.
: to adopt an air of condescension toward : treat haughtily or coolly
: to be a frequent or regular customer or client of
a restaurant much patronized by celebrities
patronization noun

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What Does patronize Mean?

The various meanings of patronize can easily be distinguished if you consider which sense of patron they allude to. Patronize in the sense “to provide aid or support for” refers to the sort of patron who gives money or assistance. Such a person might, for example, patronize the arts. A second sense of patronize involves the kind of patron who is “a frequent or regular customer” of a business – someone, for example, who patronizes a store. A third use of patronize carries a distinctively negative meaning: “to adopt an air of condescension toward.” This sense presumably developed from the idea of a wealthy and powerful patron who adopts a superior attitude towards his (or her) dependent. Nowadays, someone who patronizes (or whose behavior is patronizing) in this sense more often expresses a sense of moral or intellectual than of social superiority.

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What is the difference between condescending and patronizing?

Very few words in English have exactly the same meaning; even words which appear to be entirely synonymous often will be found to have small differences in certain contexts. The words condescending and patronizing present a fine example of this. At first glance these words appear to be defined somewhat circularly: condescending often has the word "patronizing" in its definition, and patronize is defined, in part, as “to adopt an air of condescension toward.”

But both of these words have specialized senses that lend a shade of meaning to their synonymous senses. Patronizing can mean "giving support to" or "being a customer of," suggesting that the "condescending" sense implies superiority gained through a donor-dependent relationship.

The verb condescend used to be free of any hint of the offensive superiority it usually suggests today. It could mean literally "to go or come down" or, figuratively, "to willingly lower oneself to another’s level," senses that are still occasionally encountered in writings on the Bible. The idea of self-consciously lowering oneself is implied in the "patronizing" sense of condescending.

Examples of patronize in a Sentence

For the court to come around, at this late date, to acknowledging our existence as "free persons" is shockingly patronizing; it's condescension that has been cast as liberation. John Cloud, Time, 7 July 2003
She spoke dryly, but she had to admit that the girl did not mean to patronize, and was pleasant, the way she talked right to Stephen instead of across him the way most people did. Ursula K. Le Guin, New Yorker, 28 Sept. 1987
My feelings seem to have been confused and blurred, tinged with sentimentality, colored by a great deal of folklore, and wobbling always between a patronizing affection, fostered by my elders, and downright hostility. William Styron, This Quiet Dust and Other Writings, (1953) 1982
The family patronizes the arts. He hated being patronized and pitied by those who didn't believe his story. “I'm sure you did your best even though you failed.” “Please don't patronize.” I patronize the library regularly. See More
Recent Examples on the Web The museum and its arts school, the Corcoran College of Art + Design, were a locus of D.C. cultural life, patronized by presidents and the city’s political elite, and engaged with critical social and artistic currents, including the culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s. Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, 22 Sep. 2023 Scorsese’s first political movie is also his first patronizing one. Armond White, National Review, 8 Nov. 2023 The patronizing implications surrounding a White savior are considered in the drama, directed by Mosaic’s artistic director, Reginald L. Douglas. Peter Marks, Washington Post, 5 Sep. 2023 But the fact that that attention and respect have to come in the form of a gift from men to women is, in itself, patronizing and condescending. Gordon Monson, The Salt Lake Tribune, 8 Aug. 2023 While the previous eras of the band are referenced, they are carried forward and incorporated without a hint of patronizing nostalgia. Matthew Ismael Ruiz, Pitchfork, 19 Oct. 2023 But what came across as wistful wisdom to patronizing adults translated as prophecy to those whose coming-of-age experience mirrored Lorde’s own, in one form or another. Larisha Paul, Rolling Stone, 26 Sep. 2023 The result is a highly personal tale that is able to present complex ideas in a digestible way, without patronizing or alienating its audience. Radhika Seth, Vogue, 7 Sep. 2023 Negative reviews of her two restaurants have poured in from strangers who never patronized them. Jonathan O'Connell, Paul Farhi and Sofia Andrade, Anchorage Daily News, 26 Aug. 2023 See More

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

Word History


see patron

First Known Use

1589, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of patronize was in 1589

Dictionary Entries Near patronize

Cite this Entry

“Patronize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


pa·​tron·​ize ˈpā-trə-ˌnīz How to pronounce patronize (audio) ˈpa- How to pronounce patronize (audio)
patronized; patronizing
: to act as a patron to or of : give aid or support to
patronize the arts
: to act as if one were better than
: to be a patron of
patronize a store
patronize the library
patronizingly adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on patronize

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