Oppression Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

You may have heard of the word oppression, but do you know what it means? Read on to discover our complete guide on the meaning of oppression.

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

You’ve likely heard someone mention oppression in conversation before, but do you know what this term means? 

The verb “oppress” can mean to keep an individual or party down in a social sense, such as an authoritarian government in an oppressive society. Oppress can also refer to mentally burdening someone, such as with the psychological weight of an oppressive opinion.

So, what is the definition of oppression? Read on to find out. 

What Is the Definition of Oppression?

The noun “oppression” (pronounced uh-presh-uhn) is a form of injustice. Collins English Dictionary also tells us that oppression is the inequitable use of law, physical force, or authority that prevents other from being equal and free.

Cambridge Dictionary defines oppression as keeping someone down in a social sense. For example, an authoritarian government may do this in an oppressive society. 

Alternatively, oppression can be a feeling of worry or being extremely uncomfortable.

If an individual or a group of people is in a position of power and they are controlling others unfairly or cruelly, not only is this super uncool — it’s textbook oppression. 

Cognates of Oppression

Cognates are words that may look, have the same meaning, and even sound the same or similar to those of other languages. The likely culprit here is that often these words have similar origins. Oppression is no different, as it is seen across many languages, not just American English.

Below you will find a list of translations for the word oppression:

  • Spanish — opresión
  • French — oppression
  • Korean — 압박
  • Russian — угнетение, гнёт, притеснение
  • Dutch — onderdrukking, bedruktheid
  • German — unterdrückung
  • Catalan — opressió
  • Finish — sorto
  • Italian — oppressione
  • Portuguese — opressão

What Is the Etymology of Oppression?

One of the best ways to learn a word’s definition is to study the word’s origin or etymology! 

Etymology is the back story or the history of a word, tracing all the places its been and ways it may have changed over time, from its spelling to its definition.

With that in mind, the noun oppression (deriving from the Old French oppression) had its first noted use in the mid-14the century, as oppressioun, meaning “the same.”

It also derives from the Latin oppressionem, a noun of action from the past-participle stem of opprimere meaning to press down or figuratively to prosecute relentlessly. 

What Are the Synonyms and Antonyms of Oppression?

If you consult any thesaurus, you’ll quickly see a wide array of words that we can use instead of the noun oppression. 

These “synonyms” are phrases or words that have a similar or often the same definition as another word. 

Not only do antonyms and synonyms help us to avoid repeating ourselves in conversation, but they are also a superb way of expanding our knowledge of the English language.

Below you will find synonyms of oppression:

  • Abuse
  • Brutality
  • Coercion
  • Cruelty
  • Despotism
  • Captivity
  • Slavery
  • Servitude
  • Dictatorship
  • Domination
  • Tyranny
  • Harass
  • Injustice
  • Suffering
  • Persecution
  • Maltreatment

When a word has the opposite meaning to your original, we refer to these as antonyms. Like synonyms, these alternate definitions provide an excellent way to memorize the definition of your original word.

Below you will find antonyms of oppression:

  • Freedom
  • Democracy
  • Emancipation
  • Independence
  • Liberty
  • License
  • Sympathy
  • Mercy
  • Kindness
  • Leniency
  • Clemency
  • Justic

How Can Oppression Be Used in a Sentence?

Now that you understand the meaning and history of the noun oppression, it’s time to practice using the word of the day in a sentence.

Below are several example sentences of the proper usage of oppression: 

The oppression of women in our country is appalling.

We will not stand for the oppression of minorities!

If you’re an anarchist, you likely believe that all government, police, and laws are oppressive.

Unfortunately, humans have always engaged in the oppression of those who are weaker than them.

To fight against the oppression of the evil overlords, the teens joined the rebel army.

Oppression provoked the people to rebel.

Unfortunately, they suffered many years of political oppression.

Between famine, oppression, and war, it’s no wonder why so many people have been forced to flee from their homes.

Sexism, racism, and other prejudices are often at the root of oppression.


Oppression is unjust, burdensome, cruel, or malicious treatment to exercise power, often under the guise of governmental authority or cultural opprobrium. The term can also describe the feeling of people who are being oppressed.  

In other words, oppression is the combination of prejudice and institutional power, which creates a system that discriminates against some and benefits others. These systems include racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, and anti-semitism.  

At the end of the day, oppression is simply discrimination carried out to its extreme. Say no to oppression and speak up if you witness unfair or biased treatment taking place. 


  1. Oppression synonyms Words and Phrases for Oppression | Power Thesarus
  2. OPPRESSION : definition | Cambridge English Dictionary
  3. Oppression definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary
  4. What is the opposite of oppression? | Word Hippo