difference between colonialism and imperialism

Difference between Colonialism and Imperialism

While trying to learn about history, have you ever been confused between the terms Colonialism and Imperialism?

The two terms might look quite similar to each other, even when you look up the meaning. When in reality, these two things are pretty different from each other.

A detailed discussion on Imperialism vs. Colonialism with a comparison table has been given in this article to help you better understand the difference between these two.


What Is Colonialism?


Colonialism can be defined as where a country exerts control over other countries or regions. Colonialism can change the economic, social, and political structure of the colonized areas.

People might also move to colonies to become settlers there. Colonialism has several types –

  • Settler colonialism – here, one country’s citizens completely settles in another nation/country
  • Exploitation colonialism – here, the colonizers take advantage of the natural resources of a country to extract wealth
  • Surrogate Colonialism – here people are encouraged to take over another country for power
  • Internal Colonialism – here, one nation does not take over another. Instead, one group within a government takes control over another group


What Is Imperialism?


Imperialism is the idea that drives the practice of Colonialism. It is the policies made by countries to gain control over another territory.

Imperialism does not necessarily alter the socio-economic or political structure of a country. Imperialism can be described into several types –

  • Protectorate – in this type, the country has its own government but is controlled by another
  • Sphere of Influence – the control over trade and investment is given to the conquering country
  • Economic Imperialism – a country is controlled by private business environments


Colonialism vs. Imperialism

colonialism vs imperialism

The main difference between Colonialism and Imperialism is that Imperialism is the idea, while Colonialism is the practice implemented by the concept.

In Colonialism, people have complete control over a territory, and the controllers often permanently settle in the colonized areas.

On the other hand, Imperialism is the policy to take over lands using direct or indirect control mechanisms.


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A Comparison Table

Parameters of Comparison Colonialism Imperialism
Definition One country completely exercises control over another country One country exercises formal or informal political and economic domination over another country
History It can be dated back to the 15th century when Europeans colonized vast parts of Africa and Asia Imperialism is mainly associated with the Roman empire but is older than Colonialism in the sense that it can be dated back to ancient empires
Movement of people People move to the new colony to become permanent settlers there. However, these people remain loyal to their mother country In Imperialism, people do not usually physically move to become a settler. Instead, they control the newly conquered area through direct or indirect control mechanisms
Types Settler colonies, exploitation colonies, internal colonies, and surrogate colonies Colony, the sphere of influence, protectorate, and economic Imperialism
Etymology Colony is derived from the Latin word “Colonus” The meaning of this is – to farm Imperialism is derived from the Latin word “Imperium.” This word is meant as someone giving a command
Example European controlled settlements in India, New Zealand, Brazil, America, Algeria, and Australia American control over Puerto Rico and the Philippines, as well as Chinese domination of Vietnam


Main Differences between Colonialism and Imperialism

  • The word Colonialism refers to the act of setting up territories in another country and taking over complete control. It is the actual practice, while Imperialism is the idea behind the approach.
  • Colonialism can be dated back to as early as the 15th century, whereas Imperialism is older than that and dates back to ancient empires.
  • In Colonialism, the people of the controlling country move to the controlled country or territory in order to settle there permanently. Imperialism does not involve the movement of people
  • Colony is derived from the Latin word “Colonus” The meaning of this is – to farm. Imperialism is derived from the Latin word “Imperium.” This word is meant as someone giving a command.
  • European-controlled areas like Africa, Asia, and Central America are typical examples of Colonialism. American domination of Puerto Rico and the Philippines and Chinese domination of Vietnam are examples of Imperialism.



Colonialism and Imperialism are similar in that one group controls over another group, but there are quite a few nuances.

This Imperialism vs. colonialism article will hopefully help you to understand these differences and differentiate between these two terms.

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