[ kuh-loh-nee-uh-liz-uhm ]
See synonyms for colonialism on
  1. the control or governing influence of a nation over a dependent country, territory, or people.

  2. the system or policy by which a nation maintains or advocates control or influence over a dependent country, territory, or people.

  1. the state or condition of being colonial.

  2. an idea, custom, or practice peculiar to a colony.

Origin of colonialism

First recorded in 1850–55; colonial + -ism

Other words from colonialism

  • co·lo·ni·al·ist, noun, adjective
  • co·lo·ni·al·is·tic [kuh-loh-nee-uh-lis-tik], /kəˌloʊ ni əˈlɪs tɪk/, adjective

Words Nearby colonialism Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use colonialism in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for colonialism


/ (kəˈləʊnɪəˌlɪzəm) /

  1. the policy and practice of a power in extending control over weaker peoples or areas: Also called: imperialism

Derived forms of colonialism

  • colonialist, noun, adjective

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for colonialism


The control of one nation by “transplanted” people of another nation — often a geographically distant nation that has a different culture and dominant racial or ethnic group. (See ethnicity.)

Notes for colonialism

A classic example of colonialism is the control of India by Britain from the eighteenth century to 1947.

Notes for colonialism

Control that is economic and cultural, rather than political, is often called neocolonialism.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.