[ ol-i-gahr-kik ]
/ ˌɒl ɪˈgɑr kɪk /
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of, relating to, or having the form of an oligarchy.
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Also ol·i·gar·chi·cal [ol-i-gahr-ki-kuhl] /ˌɒl ɪˈgɑr kɪ kəl/ .

Origin of oligarchic

1640–50; <Greek oligarchikós, equivalent to oligarch(ía) oligarchy + -ikos-ic


ol·i·gar·chi·cal·ly, adverbnon·ol·i·gar·chic, adjectivenon·ol·i·gar·chi·cal, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does oligarchic mean?

Oligarchic is used to describe things that involve an oligarchy—a government or system in which power is held by a select few individuals or a small class of powerful people.

Such people can be called oligarchs. Oligarchic is typically used to describe systems that resemble or function as oligarchies or the actions of people considered oligarchs.

In an oligarchy, the oligarchs may be the actual leaders, or they may influence or control the decisions that the leaders make (meaning that they’re the ones “pulling the strings” behind the scenes).

Oligarchy is never used as an official term for a form of government (like monarchy is, for example)—it’s almost always applied as a criticism of such situations. Describing something as oligarchic is frequently used as a way of pointing out the influence of the wealthy and powerful in politics and government—an influence that’s typically used to benefit themselves.

A country that is thought to have an oligarchic government can also be referred to as an oligarchy, as in Many outsiders view the nation as an oppressive oligarchy.  

Oligarchy can also refer to the class of people who have the power in this kind of system, as in The country was run by an oligarchy consisting of a few powerful industrialists.

Example: Average citizens are angry because the oligarchic system is rigged to benefit the rich and powerful.

Where does oligarchic come from?

The first records of the word oligarchic come from the 1640s. It comes from the Greek oligarchía and is formed from oligo-, meaning “few,” and arch, meaning “ruler” or “leader” (the same ending is used in monarch). The suffix -ic is used to form adjectives.

Describing something as oligarchic does not imply a specific political doctrine or philosophy. Instead, it’s based on the fact that only a few powerful people control things. In this sense, oligarchy can be thought of as the opposite of democracy—at least based on the roots of each word. While oligarchy is the “rule of the few,” democracy is thought of as the “rule of the many”—demo means “people” and -cracy means “rule.” (A dictatorship is the “rule of the one.”)

People considered oligarchs are often thought to be part of a small group of powerful, elite people whose power comes through wealth, connections, or some other status that makes them highly influential. Though there are few of them, the ruling or influential members of an oligarchic system may not always act in agreement and may even oppose each other. However, the fact that they are among the few who have real power makes them members of an oligarchy. Describing a government, country, or system as oligarchic usually implies that such a system involves corruption and oppression—no matter what the official form of government is or what the specific politics of its leaders are.

Oligarchic is often used alongside other critical terms for forms of government thought to be corrupt or unjust, such as plutocratic (used to describe a government ruled by or influenced by the wealthy) and autocratic (used to describe a government in which one person has unlimited power).

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What are some other forms related to oligarchic?

What are some synonyms for oligarchic?

  • oligarchical

What are some words that share a root or word element with oligarchic

What are some words that often get used in discussing oligarchic?

How is oligarchic used in real life?

Oligarchic is almost always used in a critical way. It usually implies that rule by only a few always results in corruption and oppression.

Try using oligarchic!

Is oligarchic used correctly in the following sentence?

We live in an oligarchic society in which a few powerful people use their billions to sway elections and influence legislation.

How to use oligarchic in a sentence