[im-peer-ee-uh-liz-uh m]


the policy of extending the rule or authority of an empire or nation over foreign countries, or of acquiring and holding colonies and dependencies.
advocacy of imperial or sovereign interests over the interests of the dependent states.
imperial government; rule by an emperor or empress.
an imperial system of government.
British. the policy of so uniting the separate parts of an empire with separate governments as to secure for certain purposes a single state.

Origin of imperialism

First recorded in 1855–60; imperial1 + -ism
Related formsim·pe·ri·al·ist, noun, adjectiveim·pe·ri·al·is·tic, adjectiveim·pe·ri·al·is·ti·cal·ly, adverbnon·im·pe·ri·al·is·tic, adjectivenon·im·pe·ri·al·is·ti·cal·ly, adverbun·im·pe·ri·al·is·tic, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for imperialist

colonial, absolutist, authoritarian, despotic, dictatorial, hawkish

Examples from the Web for imperialist

Contemporary Examples of imperialist

Historical Examples of imperialist

  • He is now quite clean and proper, and, I believe, an imperialist.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

  • That failure was not the only circumstance which made Clement imperialist.

    Henry VIII.

    A. F. Pollard

  • That faceless and nameless horror was the apotheosis of the Imperialist.

    Waiting for Daylight

    Henry Major Tomlinson

  • An Imperialist army of nearly 10,000 men acted in conjunction with it.

    The Life of Gordon, Volume I

    Demetrius Charles Boulger

  • I am not myself an Imperialist—a Vandemar can be scarcely that.

    The Parisians, Complete

    Edward Bulwer-Lytton

British Dictionary definitions for imperialist



the policy or practice of extending a state's rule over other territories
an instance or policy of aggressive behaviour by one state against another
the extension or attempted extension of authority, influence, power, etc, by any person, country, institution, etccultural imperialism
a system of imperial government or rule by an emperor
the spirit, character, authority, etc, of an empire
advocacy of or support for any form of imperialism
Derived Formsimperialist, adjective, nounimperialistic, adjectiveimperialistically, adverb
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

Word Origin and History for imperialist

c.1600, "an adherent of an emperor," such as the emperor of Germany, France, China, etc., probably modeled on French impérialiste (early 16c.); from imperial + -ist. The shift in meaning to "advocate of imperialism" (1893) came via the British Empire, which involved a worldwide colonial system. See imperialism. As a term of abuse in communist circles, attested by 1918. As an adjective by 1816.



1826, "advocacy of empire," originally in a Napoleonic context, also of Rome and of British foreign policy, from imperial + -ism. At times in British usage (and briefly in U.S.) with a neutral or positive sense relating to national interests or the spread of the benefits of Western civilization, but from the begining usually more or less a term of reproach. General sense of "one country's rule over another," first recorded 1878. Picked up disparagingly in Communist jargon by 1918.

It is the old story of 1798, when French republicanism sick of its own folly and misdeeds, became metamorphosed into imperialism, and consoled itself for its incapacity to found domestic freedom by putting an iron yoke upon Europe, and covering it with blood and battle-fields. [Francis Lloyd, "St. James's Magazine," January 1842]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

imperialist in Culture


Acquisition by a government of other governments or territories, or of economic or cultural power over other nations or territories, often by force. Colonialism is a form of imperialism.

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.