Difference Between Colonialism and Imperialism

Histories and historians have always been mentioning imperialism and colonialism to the point where we stopped trying to differentiate between them. They are both terms used for ruling a place politically and economically.

But there lies a vast difference between imperialism and colonialism. This difference is brought to light on the definition of the terms. But in common sense, we can say that imperialism is the idea while colonialism is the action implementing the idea.

Colonialism vs Imperialism

The main difference between Colonialism and Imperialism is that colonialism is exploiting their colonies or areas of control economically whereas imperialism is expanding and controlling their empire with force or colonialism.

Colonialism v Imperialism

Colonialism is the idea of imperialism put into action. This is not concerned about the empire‘s well-being but focuses only on the economic development of the entire area. They are done by sorting colonies or areas within the empire.

Imperialism is expanding its empire to neighbouring regions or empires or the weaker areas by using colonialism or military force. This is usually done for extending political and economic access by reigning control and practising strong and soft power.

Comparison Table Between Colonialism and Imperialism

Parameters of ComparisonColonialismImperialism
DefinitionIs owning a region politically for economically exploiting the people in the region.Is expanding the empire using soft and hard powers for reigning control and exercising power
ProcessPeople are forced to move into other regions for forming colonies for exploitingThey expand through colonialism, economic expansion or military force
OriginColonus(Latin word) means ‘farmer’Imperium(Latin word) means ‘power’
SettlementA large number of people are moved from their original settlement into coloniesNo such movement is seen as the area to which control has expanded already houses people for controlling
Eco-political aspectsIs the method for the economical exploitation of the peopleExpands the economic and political power by extending their empire

What is Colonialism?

Colonialism is imperialism put into action. It is expanding control over regions by forming areas of colonies and forcing a large number of people to move into these regions.

This method is exercised to reign control and to exploit the people economically. They have partial or complete political power over these colonies. So, this method is exercised for economic exploitation.

Economic exploitation being the main reason, colonialism also conserved and propagated their cultural practices, languages and religion. They also expanded their cultural and economical practices by propagating various agendas.

It was first practised by Europeans and we have proofs of many European colonies and colonials. This was initially started by acquiring the merchandise business of the empire and then slowly controlling them economically. It was during the World Wide II that most of the colonies under the British Empire acquired their independence.

What is Imperialism?

The word imperialism comes from the Latin word ‘imperium’. This means supreme or power. As the word suggests, imperialism is the distinct method for gaining power and exercising control over an empire.

Imperialism is the idea or thought of expanding and ruling over neighbouring and weak territories. This can be done through soft power, like gaining economic and political power, or hard power like a military force. When imperialism is put into action, it is called colonialism.

Imperialism usually looks into the political and economic development of the empire for attracting settlers instead of forcing them into rehabilitation. It can also be said that imperialism is the finest method of practising capitalism.

Imperialism was practised from the 1760s and is again a concept made by the British empire. During the time, the expansion of the territories was funded by the economic exploitation of the colonies under the British empire.

Main Differences Between Colonialism and Imperialism

  1. The main difference between colonialism and imperialism lies in the definition of the two terms. Imperialism is the idea of expansion of the empire by gaining control over neighbouring and weak regions. While colonialism is gaining control over regions by dividing them into colonies for economic exploitation.
  2. In colonialism, people from other regions are forcefully moved into smaller regions called colonies. Whereas such mass movement of people is not seen in imperialism. The empire is extended to a land that is already occupied by their native people.
  3. The origin of the words can also show the difference between the terms. Imperialism comes from the Latin word ‘imperium’ and this means ‘power’ or ‘supreme’ thus imperialism stands for gaining power. Colonialism comes from the Latin word ‘colonus’ which means ‘farmer’. This term thus means exploitation of the farmers or peasants economically.
  4. In colonialism, a large number of people are moved from their native empires or places and shifted into smaller areas called colonies. These regions are easier to control and exercise power. Whereas such forced movement of people is not seen in imperialism. The already existing people of a region are ruled over.
  5. Colonialism is the method of gaining economic access for the exploitation of the people. Whereas imperialism focuses on economic and political control but also works towards development. This development is made by the economic gained by colonialism.


Colonialism and imperialism are the terms that we come across regularly in history. Both are terms used for exercising power and gaining control over other regions. They are also the methods of gaining access to the region or empire’s economic development and sometimes political power as well.

Colonialism is the policy or the plan of extending their empire or power by making smaller areas called colonies of people. This is usually done to gain economic dominance over the place. People are moved into these colonies in large numbers.

Imperialism is the idea of gaining control over weaker and neighbouring regions by expanding their empire. This can be done through soft or hard power. Hard power includes colonialism. This method helps to gain political and economic dominance of the area.

The difference between imperialism and colonialism can be seen through the economical a political aspect. While colonialism wants economic dominance with partial or complete political freedom, imperialism needs both economic and political dominance of the empire.


  1. https://d-nb.info/1031400591/34
  2. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20024202
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