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 The symbolism of his appearance was not lost at a time when the country is undergoing a racial justice reckoning. New York Times, "At the Masters, Lee Elder Gets Another Moment in the Spotlight," 8 Apr. 2021 Although the president’s budget doesn’t become law, advocates say Biden should use the symbolism of the spending plan to send a message on what’s important to his administration. Jennifer Haberkorn, Los Angeles Times, "Biden faces question of whether to keep abortion funding ban in his budget," 7 Apr. 2021 Israel was nearing an unprecedented constitutional crisis, Avineri said, its depth underlined by the symbolism of the two processes unfolding in parallel., "Defendant number one or next prime minister? Netanyahu divides Israel," 5 Apr. 2021 Roasted lamb is commonly served as the main dish, to represent the symbolism of the lamb within Christianity. Emily Vanschmus, Better Homes & Gardens, "What to Know About the Difference Between Easter and Orthodox Easter," 5 Apr. 2021 This isn’t because Republican votes are needed to pass legislation, but because the symbolism of tackling infrastructure has always mattered more than the substance. Osita Nwanevu, The New Republic, "The End of Infrastructure Week," 30 Mar. 2021 The entire symbolism of the Olympics and torch relay has changed amid the pandemic, according to Barbara Holthus, deputy director of the German Institute for Japanese Studies. Emiko Jozuka, CNN, "The Olympic flame starts its final leg to Tokyo. Some suggest this day should never have come," 25 Mar. 2021 But like Kariv's rise, the symbolism of the ruling challenged the Orthodox establishment's monopoly on defining what and who qualifies as Jewish. Laurie Kellman, Star Tribune, "Israeli voters poised to send first Reform rabbi to Knesset," 19 Mar. 2021 Utah coach Tom Farden likes the symbolism of winning the Pac-12 as much any tangible reward. Josh Newman, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Utah can win at least share of Pac-12 gymnastics title with win over Cal," 25 Feb. 2021

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

Time Traveler for symbolism

Time Traveler

The first known use of symbolism was in 1654

See more words from the same year

Statistics for symbolism

Last Updated

16 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Symbolism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Apr. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

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

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).


Test Your Vocabulary

The Exceptions Quiz III

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

 AlphaBear 2

Spell words. Make bears.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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