verb (used with object)

to burden with cruel or unjust impositions or restraints; subject to a burdensome or harsh exercise of authority or power: a people oppressed by totalitarianism.
to lie heavily upon (the mind, a person, etc.): Care and sorrow oppressed them.
to weigh down, as sleep or weariness does.
Archaic. to put down; subdue or suppress.
Archaic. to press upon or against; crush.

Origin of oppress

1300–50; Middle English oppressen < Middle French oppresser < Medieval Latin oppressāre, derivative of Latin oppressus past participle of opprimere to squeeze, suffocate, equivalent to op- op- + -primere (combining form of premere) to press1
Related formsop·press·i·ble, adjectiveop·pres·sor, nounpre·op·press, verb (used with object)pre·op·pres·sor, nounre·op·press, verb (used with object)self-op·pres·sor, nounun·op·pressed, adjectiveun·op·press·i·ble, adjective
Can be confusedoppress repress

Synonyms for oppress

1, 2. Oppress, depress, both having the literal meaning to press down upon, to cause to sink, are today mainly limited to figurative applications. To oppress is usually to subject (a people) to burdens, to undue exercise of authority, and the like; its chief application, therefore, is to a social or political situation: a tyrant oppressing his subjects. Depress suggests mainly the psychological effect, upon the individual, of unpleasant conditions, situations, etc., that sadden and discourage: depressed by the news. When oppress is sometimes used in this sense, it suggests a psychological attitude of more complete hopelessness: oppressed by a sense of failure. 1. maltreat, persecute.

Antonyms for oppress

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for oppressor

Contemporary Examples of oppressor

Historical Examples of oppressor

  • With tears rolling down her cheeks the victim points to her oppressor.

    Lotus Buds

    Amy Carmichael

  • "And yet we used to prevail against the oppressor," he concluded, proudly.

  • "It is the sacred right of the citizen to oppress the oppressor," chimed Jude.

    The False Chevalier

    William Douw Lighthall

  • You, when smitten on the right cheek, turned unto the oppressor the left.


    Charles Godfrey Leland

  • I reck not what ye say, so I win your lady sister from her oppressor.'

British Dictionary definitions for oppressor


verb (tr)

to subjugate by cruelty, force, etc
to afflict or torment
to lie heavy on (the mind, imagination, etc)
an obsolete word for overwhelm
Derived Formsoppressingly, adverboppressor, noun

Word Origin for oppress

C14: via Old French from Medieval Latin oppressāre, from Latin opprimere, from ob- against + premere to press
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 oppressor

c.1400, from Old French opresseor, from Latin oppressor, from opprimere (see oppress (v.)).



mid-14c., from Old French opresser "oppress, afflict; torment, smother" (13c.), from Medieval Latin oppressare, frequentative of Latin opprimere "press against, press together, press down;" figuratively "crush, put down, subdue, prosecute relentlessly" (in Late Latin "to rape"), from ob "against" (see ob-) + premere "to press, push" (see press (v.1)).

It is the due [external] restraint and not the moderation of rulers that constitutes a state of liberty; as the power to oppress, though never exercised, does a state of slavery. [St. George Tucker, "View of the Constitution of the United States," 1803]

Related: Oppressed; oppressing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper