col·​o·​nize ˈkä-lə-ˌnīz How to pronounce colonize (audio)
variants also British colonise
colonized; colonizing; colonizes
transitive + intransitive : to take control of (a people or area) especially as an extension of state power : to claim (someone or something) as a colony
areas colonized by European powers
It [Aléria, France] was, at different times in history, colonized by the Greeks, Etruscans, Carthaginians, and Romans.Kristina Killgrove
Pacific Islanders—Hawaiians, Samoans, the Chamorro of Guam—were and remain colonized by the United States …Viet Thanh Nguyen
Before the U.S.'s occupation of the roughly 7,500 islands, Spain colonized the Philippines and Mexico concurrently for around 300 years …Amanda Albee
As the indigenous people of North America, Native Americans were colonized on their own land, the places to which they trace their social, cultural, and religious origins.Kate A. Berry et al.
Portuguese officials are keenly aware of their checkered legacy. They were the first Europeans to colonize in Asia …Mark Landler
transitive : to migrate to and settle in (an inhabited or uninhabited area) : to establish a colony in
the areas of New England colonized by the Puritans
… the seaside town of Puerto Madryn, named by the Welsh settlers who colonized the few river valleys of Patagonia.Anita McConnell
c transitive + intransitive
biology, of an organism : to spread to and develop in a new area or habitat
… usually the first plant to colonize newly formed sand spits and newly deposited sands on the barrier islands …Robert H. Mohlenbrock
medical, of a microorganism : to multiply in or on a host or an inanimate object or surface
C. diff. is a spore-forming, toxin-producing bacterium that can colonize the large intestine and wreak havoc there …Jane E. Brody
… the bacteria that colonize our gut and play a key role in keeping us healthy.Katie Hunt
Microorganisms, particularly normal skin flora, colonize and form biofilms quickly on catheter surfaces …Daryl S. Paulson
transitive : to take or make use of (something) without authority or right : appropriate
Parked cars have colonized city streets for so long that most people assume cars own the curb lane.Donald Shoup
"Before colonizing the artistic and intellectual work of Black people, white people should ask themselves questions such as, how can I contribute to this Black person's wellbeing? Am I studying this work for the explicit purpose of Black liberation, or are my motives fundamentally selfish?"Amanda Bennett

Examples of colonize in a Sentence

The area was colonized in the 18th century. Weeds quickly colonized the field. The island had been colonized by plants and animals.
Recent Examples on the Web Share [Findings] Climate change was expected to drive American lobsters to seek deeper waters, beavers to colonize new parts of Canada, and wolf spiders in the high Arctic to produce a second annual brood. Rafil Kroll-Zaidi, Harper's Magazine, 19 June 2024 In 1732 just one estate in St. Kitts in the Caribbean, colonized by the British, needed £1000 of copper equipment and, by the mid-18th century, a single plantation worked by 300 people needed five tons of copper vessels, produced by London coppersmiths. Corinne Fowler / Made By History, TIME, 17 June 2024 Millions of koalas are thought to have lived in Australia before Europeans colonized the continent in earnest. Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic, 17 June 2024 That put to rest the theory that malaria was already present in the Americas when Europeans colonized and enslaved other people. Melody Schreiber, NPR, 13 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for colonize 

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

Word History

First Known Use

1622, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of colonize was in 1622

Dictionary Entries Near colonize

Cite this Entry

“Colonize.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


col·​o·​nize ˈkäl-ə-ˌnīz How to pronounce colonize (audio)
colonized; colonizing
: to establish a colony in or on
England colonized Australia
: to establish in a colony
the rights of colonized people
: to settle in a colony

Medical Definition


col·​o·​nize ˈkäl-ə-ˌnīz How to pronounce colonize (audio)
colonized; colonizing; colonizes

transitive + intransitive

of a microorganism : to multiply in or on a host or an inanimate object or surface
At least half of all Americans over age 30 have gingivitis, a mild inflammation caused by bacterial plaque. Untreated, it may turn into periodontitis, in which bacteria colonize pockets that form between the gums and teeth.Julia Karow, Scientific American
The microbe in question is Candida albicans, a yeast that often harmlessly colonizes patients …Joan Stephenson, The Journal of the American Medical Association
These preparations presumably contain "probiotics," usually meaning strains of Lactobacillus to colonize your intestine and promote bacterial growth.UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Microorganisms, particularly normal skin flora, colonize and form biofilms quickly on catheter surfaces …Daryl S. Paulson, AORN Journal
colonization noun
asymptomatic wound colonization by staphylococcus
… they significantly reduced the rate of bacterial colonization of the devices from 30% to 9% and cut the rate of infection in patients from 4% to 0. Carol Potera, Science
colonizer noun
Identification of the typical flora in the postoperative ethmoid sinus cavity, as well as a determination of the type of bacteria expected to be colonizers rather than pathogens, would also assist the physician in selecting an appropriate antibiotic. Neil Bhattacharyya and Harsha V. Gopal, Ear, Nose and Throat Journal

More from Merriam-Webster on colonize

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