uni·​lat·​er·​al | \ ˌyü-ni-ˈla-tə-rəl How to pronounce unilateral (audio) , -ˈla-trəl \

Definition of unilateral

1a : done or undertaken by one person or party
b : of, relating to, or affecting one side of a subject : one-sided
c : constituting or relating to a contract or engagement by which an express obligation to do or forbear is imposed on only one party
2a : having parts arranged on one side a unilateral raceme
b : occurring on, performed on, or affecting one side of the body or one of its parts unilateral exophthalmos
4 : having only one side

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Other Words from unilateral

unilaterally adverb

Did You Know?

The world is a smaller place than it used to be, and we get uncomfortable when a single nation adopts a policy of unilateralism—that is, acting independently with little regard for what the rest of the world thinks. A unilateral invasion of another country, for instance, usually looks like a grab for power and resources. But occasionally the world welcomes a unilateral action, as when the U.S. announced unilateral nuclear-arms reductions in the early 1990s. Previously, such reductions had only happened as part of bilateral ("two-sided") agreements with the old Soviet Union. Multilateral agreements, on issues such as climate change, often involve most of the world's nations.

Examples of unilateral in a Sentence

Our country is prepared to take unilateral action.
Recent Examples on the Web Where does that language give Mr. Pence unilateral authority to set aside electors? The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Trump’s Embarrassing Electoral College Hustle," 30 Dec. 2020 On Tuesday the European Commission, the E.U.'s executive branch, recommended that the 27 E.U. member states should lift any unilateral travel bans on the U.K. and instead discourage all but essential journeys. NBC News, "As U.K. faces mutant virus surge over Christmas, experts warn U.S.: 'It's coming'," 22 Dec. 2020 Many here were angered by the apparently unilateral investigation and arrest. Whitney Eulich, The Christian Science Monitor, "Mexican reform reins in DEA partnership. Why now?," 18 Dec. 2020 There’s no legal or economic rationale for another unilateral government retreat in the face of growing monopoly power. Zephyr Teachout, The New Republic, "A Blueprint for a Trust-Busting Biden Presidency," 18 Dec. 2020 The scheme is unilateral, meaning Singaporeans who want to travel to those countries are still subject to existing coronavirus travel restrictions. Naomi Xu Elegant, Fortune, "Singapore is desperate to revive tourism and business travel. Here are all the ways it’s tried," 15 Dec. 2020 The organization has been shaken over the past four years by U.S. President Donald Trump’s vocal demands for European countries to spend more on defense and his unilateral changes to the deployment of American troops abroad. Jonathan Stearns, Bloomberg.com, "China Becomes a Bigger Mark on NATO Radar Screen With New Report," 1 Dec. 2020 People in both camps have been left wondering whether the resignations would be an effective form of protest, or amount to unilateral disarmament. New York Times, "As Hong Kong Opposition Quits Council, Pro-Beijing Forces Reign," 12 Nov. 2020 Meanwhile, sorting out Trump's unilateral policies will take time, given their scope. John Fritze, USA TODAY, "For Biden, unwinding the Trump presidency could be a full-time job fraught with politics," 10 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'unilateral.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of unilateral

1802, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Time Traveler for unilateral

Time Traveler

The first known use of unilateral was in 1802

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Last Updated

13 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Unilateral.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unilateral. Accessed 20 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for unilateral


How to pronounce unilateral (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of unilateral

: involving only one group or country


uni·​lat·​er·​al | \ ˌyü-ni-ˈlat-ə-rəl, -ˈla-trəl How to pronounce unilateral (audio) \

Medical Definition of unilateral

: occurring on, performed on, or affecting one side of the body or one of its parts unilateral exophthalmos

Other Words from unilateral

unilaterally \ -​ē How to pronounce unilateral (audio) \ adverb


uni·​lat·​er·​al | \ ˌyü-nə-ˈla-tə-rəl How to pronounce unilateral (audio) \

Legal Definition of unilateral

1 : done or undertaken by one party a unilateral mistake as to the terms
2 : of, relating to, or affecting one side of a subject
3 : containing a promise to perform made by only one party especially because the other has already performed (as by paying an amount) an option contract is unilateral

Other Words from unilateral

unilaterally adverb

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