The Meaning of Oligarchy: What It Is and How To Use It

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Can you name all of the different systems of government? Do you know which system of government your country is run under? You will learn all about different political systems in this article about today’s word of the day, oligarchy. 

We will define what an oligarchy is and teach you how an oligarchy is different from other systems of government. 

What Does Oligarchy Mean?

According to Dictionary, an oligarchy is a government in which a small group of people is in power. Sometimes, oligarchies occur when there is one dominant ruling class or clique. The word oligarchy can either refer to the system of government itself or the state that is ruled by an oligarchy. 

Oligarchy is not an official term for a political system of government but is usually used as a criticism of systems like a monarchy. Usually, if someone refers to something as an oligarchy, they are criticizing the influence of a certain class or group of people, like the wealthy. 

Sometimes, the people who rule the government in an oligarchy are its actual leaders. Other times, these political figures influence the government behind the scenes. Usually, people use the term oligarch in reference to Russia and Russian oligarchs such as Vladimir Putin. 

The adjective form of the word oligarchy is oligarchic. To refer to one of the people that are in power in an oligarchy, use the noun oligarch. The pronunciation of the word oligarchy is ˈɒl ɪˌgɑr ki.

How Can We Use Oligarchy in a Sentence?

Below, you will find several example sentences that contain the word oligarchy! Try coming up with your own examples of oligarchy to practice today’s word of the day.

Example #1

The wealthy class led the country under the iron law of oligarchy. People were starving in the streets and losing their homes left and right, but the ruling class did not care.

Example #2

Having all of a country’s political power stay with a small number of people is a surefire way to lead to an oligarchy.

Example #3

While the country was originally run under a democratic republic, one bad election led to a string of dictators that ran the country under a de facto oligarchy.  

Example #4

The teacher compared how the ruling class oligarchies in certain countries differed from the political system in ancient Athens. The class of young students did not understand why the oligarchic systems did not care about the lower classes.

What Is the Etymology of Oligarchy?

The word origin of oligarchy is fairly simple. The term oligarchy entered the English language in the mid to late 1500s and came from the Medieval Latin oligarkhia and the Greek olígos. The suffixes “archy” and “chy” mean rule or government and form nouns.

What Are Translations of Oligarchy?

All around the world, people use different words to refer to oligarchies. If you are going to be studying politics in another country, for example, it might be useful to know how to say oligarchy in languages other than American English. Below, Nice Translator provides a list of numerous ways to say oligarchy in languages other than English: 

  • Danish: oligarki
  • Estonian: oligarhia
  • Slovenian: oligarhija
  • Finnish: oligarkia
  • Japanese: oli頭
  • Italian: oligarchia
  • Basque: oligaryy
  • Amharic: oligratchy
  • Slovak: oligarchia
  • Bengali: অলিগার্কি
  • Hebrew: אוֹלִיגַרכְיָה
  • Swedish: oligarki
  • Korean: 과두 정치
  • Spanish: oligarquía
  • Hindi: कुलीनतंत्र
  • French: oligarchie
  • Urdu: اولیگرکی
  • Thai: คณาธิปไตย
  • Serbian: олигархија
  • Vietnamese: đầu sỏ
  • Lithuanian: Oligarchija
  • Croatian: oligarhija
  • Telugu: సామ్రాజ్యం
  • Malay: Oligarki
  • Polish: oligarchia
  • Chinese (PRC): 寡头
  • Arabic: حكم الاقلية
  • Ukrainian: олігархія
  • Norwegian: oligarki
  • Turkish: oligarşi
  • Hungarian: oligarchia
  • Welsh: oligarchiaeth
  • Kannada: ಮಿತಜನತಂತ್ರ
  • Greek: ολιγαρχία
  • Catalan: oligarquia
  • Portuguese (Portugal): oligarquia
  • Romanian: oligarhie
  • Latvian: oligarhija
  • Indonesian: oligarki
  • Gujarati: મહત્ત્વ
  • Dutch: oligarchie
  • Czech: oligarchie
  • Portuguese (Brazil): oligarquia
  • Bulgarian: олигархия
  • German: Oligarchie
  • Tamil: தன்னலக்குழு
  • Swahili: Oligarchy
  • Russian: олигархия
  • Marathi: अलिगार्ची
  • Malayalam: ഒലിഗരി
  • Chinese (Taiwan): 寡頭

What Are Synonyms of Oligarchy?

Oligarchy is a general term for a type of government with a negative connotation. If you are looking for a more specific term for a system of government or if you are looking for a word with a different connotation, you can use one of the below synonyms of oligarchy from Power Thesaurus

Often, the term oligarchy has negative implications. If you are looking for a different tone, utilize a synonym of oligarchy with a neutral or positive connotation instead:

  • absolutism
  • aristocracy
  • authoritarianism
  • autocracy
  • coercion
  • commonwealth
  • cruelty
  • despotism
  • dictatorship
  • domination
  • establishment
  • hierarchy
  • militarism
  • monarchy
  • oligarchic
  • oppression
  • peremptoriness
  • plutocracy
  • republic
  • theocracy
  • tyranny

What Are Antonyms of Oligarchy?

If an oligarchy does not rule a system of government, it is likely ruled by a democracy, democratic republic, or other related government systems. If you are looking for a word that refers to a governmental system that is not an oligarchy, browse through this list of oligarchy antonyms from Power Thesaurus

See if any of these terms refer to the type of government you are talking about!

  • autonomy
  • civil government
  • commonwealth
  • constitutional government
  • democracies
  • democracy
  • democratic governance
  • democratic organization
  • democratic society
  • democratic state
  • democratism
  • egalitarianism
  • elective government
  • emancipation
  • freedom
  • government by the people
  • home rule
  • majority rule
  • people power 
  • popular government
  • popular sovereignty
  • representative government
  • republic
  • self-determination
  • self-government
  • self-rule
  • sovereignty
  • sovereignty of the people
  • suffrage


An oligarchy is a political system in which a small group of people controls political power. The term oligarchy is not an official system of government and is often used to critique corrupt political systems. Sometimes, the people who rule an oligarchy are the actual leaders of the country, while other times, the people with political control rule things behind the scenes. 


Oligarchy synonyms – 95 Words and Phrases for Oligarchy | Power Thesaurus 

Democracy synonyms – 115 Words and Phrases for Democracy | Power Thesaurus 

Oligarchy Definition & Meaning | 

Oligarchy | Nice Translator