sym·​bol·​ism | \ˈsim-bə-ˌli-zəm \

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

And so powerful is the symbolism on either side that Strzok is likely to remain a political Rorschach test on the Russia investigation as long as the independent special counsel investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia connections exists. Amber Phillips, Washington Post, "Peter Strzok, the symbol of whatever you want him to be in the Russia investigation," 13 July 2018 And while there is much to admire about the video (the Carter's ineffable cool, the cinematic cinematography, of course, the song itself), perhaps most poignant is the symbolism. Elise Taylor, Vogue, "You Can Now Visit All the Paintings of “Apeshit” in a Beyoncé and Jay-Z Inspired Tour of the Louvre Museum," 6 July 2018 Time was integral to the operation of a train station, so there's symbolism to the return of the clock, Dimick said. Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press, "Thief returns train station clock, thanks Ford for believing in Detroit," 18 June 2018 The handover carries some symbolism as Mueller had been the executive tasked in September 2015 to lead the company through its scandal over cheating on U.S. diesel car emissions tests. David Mchugh,, "With new CEO, VW shifts focus from scandal to future tech," 13 Apr. 2018 Every element of the set is imbued with symbolism, but none more so than the Spellman house. Candace Braun Davison, House Beautiful, "Netflix Has Hidden All Kinds Of Easter Eggs In The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina House," 25 Oct. 2018 Another subtle but significant design by a master of symbolism, this addition to Independence National Historic Park has become a Philadelphia favorite. Patrick Sisson, Curbed, "Masterpieces of Robert Venturi, a postmodern architecture icon," 20 Sep. 2018 The narrative lurches confusingly, and some of the symbolism and its meanings prove elusive. Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Pass Over': Theater Review," 19 June 2018 The symbolism-laden meeting — the third between leaders of the nations since the Korean War and the first since 2007 — will go a long way in determining whether Kim can eventually strike a deal with U.S. President Donald Trump. Fortune, "Kim Jong Un Urges Peace After Historic Walk Over Korean Border," 27 Apr. 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

4 Dec 2018

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 \

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 \

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).


living or existing for a long time

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

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!