sym·​bol·​ism | \ ˈsim-bə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce symbolism (audio) \

Definition of symbolism

1 : the art or practice of using symbols especially by investing things with a symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representations: such as
a : artistic imitation or invention that is a method of revealing or suggesting immaterial, ideal, or otherwise intangible truth or states
b : the use of conventional or traditional signs in the representation of divine beings and spirits
2 : a system of symbols or representations

Examples of symbolism in a Sentence

The story was filled with religious symbolism.

Recent Examples on the Web

Apparently, there's a whole lot of symbolism in it. Hadley Keller, House Beautiful, "Who is Taylor Swift's New BFF, Muralist Kelsey Montague?," 25 Apr. 2019 Voters also nominated Corey Stewart, a Prince William County supervisor and commonwealth carbon of Trump — best known as a defender of Confederate symbolism — to take on Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in November. Mark Z. Barabak,, "Trump puts stranglehold on GOP — and woe to any Republican who objects," 13 June 2018 The inspiration is the Greek tradition of dyeing eggs in every home on Holy Thursday before Easter Sunday, as well as a more universal symbolism of eggs as creation and the beginning of a new cycle of life. Stellene Volandes, Town & Country, "Easter Egg Charms are the Perfect Last Minute Easter Gift," 18 Apr. 2019 The monument, a former church built in the 18th century that has become a famous mausoleum, has symbolism of its own. Thomas Adamson, The Seattle Times, "France shows Britons splendor of citizenship as Brexit looms," 24 Mar. 2019 Seems to be some Thomas Markle symbolism, in my opinion. Christopher Rosa, Glamour, "All the Meghan Markle References in A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding," 1 Dec. 2018 But just in case there was any doubt over who's in charge, two new royal portraits of herself were just painted — one of which has some special symbolism featured on it. Kayla Keegan, Good Housekeeping, "Queen Elizabeth II's Outfit in Her New Portrait Has a Hidden Meaning," 3 Dec. 2018 Many in the throng who waited outside also embraced the trans-Atlantic symbolism of the moment. Ellen Barry,, "Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wed, and a new era dawns in Britain," 19 May 2018 As a result, some of those moments flirt with inconsequence or facile symbolism. Jesse Green, New York Times, "Review: ‘Mary Page Marlowe’ Lives an Ordinary, Extraordinary Life," 12 July 2018

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

1654, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about symbolism

Statistics for symbolism

Last Updated

22 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for symbolism

The first known use of symbolism was in 1654

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for symbolism



English Language Learners Definition of symbolism

: the use of symbols to express or represent ideas or qualities in literature, art, etc.
: the particular idea or quality that is expressed by a symbol


sym·​bol·​ism | \ ˈsim-bə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce symbolism (audio) \

Kids Definition of symbolism

1 : the use of symbols to represent an idea or quality The story was filled with symbolism.
2 : the meaning of a symbol What is the symbolism of the lion and lamb in this picture?


sym·​bol·​ism | \ ˈsim-bə-ˌliz-əm How to pronounce symbolism (audio) \

Medical Definition of symbolism

: the art or practice of using symbols especially by investing things with a symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representations

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on symbolism

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with symbolism

Spanish Central: Translation of symbolism

Nglish: Translation of symbolism for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of symbolism for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about symbolism

Comments on symbolism

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


one that collects or salvages junk

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Time Traveler Quiz: Which Word Came First?

  • time traveler quiz which word came first
  • Which came first?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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