English Language Blog

What is an –ism? Posted by on Feb 19, 2012 in English Grammar, English Language

–ism is a suffix added to the end of a word to indicate that the word represents a specific practice, system, or philosophy.  Often these practices, systems, or philosophies are political ideologies or artistic movements.  Using –ism at the end of a word also suggests the word is related to a belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as an authority by a group or school of thought.  The suffix –ism is always added to the end of a noun and a word with a –ism suffix is also always a noun.  I am sure you have seen the suffix –ism on the end of many words in the past.  Below I have highlighted some common –ism words and given the definitions of these words.

Activism – The action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.
Ageism – Prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age.
Alcoholism – An addiction to the consumption of alcoholic liquor or the mental illness and compulsive behavior resulting from alcohol dependency.
Capitalism – An economic and political system in which trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit.
Dualism – A theory or system of thought that regards a domain of reality in terms of two independent principles, for example: mind and matter.
Environmentalism – The philosophical belief that the environment is more important than heredity in determining growth and development.
Fatalism – The belief that all events in life are predetermined and inevitable.
Globalism – Globalism can have at least two different and opposing meanings. One meaning is the attitude or policy of placing the interests of the entire world above those of individual nations.  The other meaning is viewing the entire world as a place for one nation to project its political influence.
Hedonism – The ethical theory that pleasure is the highest good and proper aim of human life.
Individualism – The habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant.
Materialism – A tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than other values.
Realism – The attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it as it is.
Sexism – Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex or gender.
Vegetarianism – A diet that philosophically excludes all meat and fish from being eaten.

Can you think of any other –ism words?  Or do you have a question about a word ending in –ism that you have seen before?  If so, please leave a comment on this post.

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.


  1. Sam:


  2. Travis:

    Hello there, I have a question.

    While I understand -ism to be chiefly related to, as you say, beliefs doctrines etc. the word “magnetism” comes to mind and I know that to be a physical force rather than a belief or doctrine. Is that an exception to the rule or does that indicate that the usage of “ism” is broader?

    • gabriele:

      @Travis Travis,
      Great comment. Not all words that end in -ism use this suffix for the same purpose or with the same meaning. There are certainly exceptions, such as ‘magnetism’ which you mention.

  3. benjamin:

    facism, racism, communism…
    Hope this helps.

    Thank you

  4. Liz Brown:

    Thank you for your description of the suffix “ism”. How would you define the word “anti-semitism?

    • Gabriele:

      @Liz Brown Liz,
      I would define it the same way most dictionaries do: hostility to or prejudice against Jews.
      Semitism is ‘the state or quality of being Jewish’. The word ‘semetic’ means Jewish; the -ism added to this word means
      the specific practices or philosophy related to Judaism; making the word semitism.
      When ‘anti-‘ is added to the beginning of this word it literally means ‘being against the state or philosophy of Judaism’.
      I hope that mini-linguistic analysis makes sense.

  5. Edward:

    “–ism is a suffix added to the end of a word,” does it mean -ism can be added to any word such as noun, adjective, verb, gerund, adverb, etc.?

    • Gabriele:

      @Edward Edward,
      If you read a little bit past the first few sentences of this post you will find the answer to your question in this post…
      “The suffix –ism is always added to the end of a noun and a word with a –ism suffix is also always a noun.”
      I hope that helps.

  6. Yvonne Green-EL:


  7. Grant leach:


  8. Eva:

    What does (Victorianism) means!