Difference Between Colonialism and Imperialism

Both Colonialism and Imperialism mean economic and political domination of the other. As a result, both are hard to differentiate at times.

Yet they are two words with totally different meanings. Colonialism is where one country physically exerts complete control over another country and Imperialism is formal or informal economic and political domination of one country over the other.

In a nutshell, colonialism can be thought of as the practice of domination and imperialism as an idea behind the practice.

Get over 100 difference between articles in the linked post.

Difference Between Colonialism and Imperialism - UPSC 2020

Keeping the context of the IAS Exam in mind, this article will extensively highlight the differences between colonialism and imperialism             

Aspirants should know the difference between a few more important terms that are linked below:

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Differences between Colonialism and Imperialism



Colonialism is when one country physically exerts its domination, either through a combination of war and diplomacy, over another country with a view to exploiting its resources Imperialism is when one country is involved in creating an empire and expanding the borders in order to project its power.
In colonialism, there will be a movement of people to the new territory, becoming permanent settlers in the process Imperialism is just about exerting control over the conquered regions either through direct governance or through indirect control mechanisms
Colonialism in the modern sense dates back to the 15th century when Europeans began to colonize large swathes of  Asia and Africa Imperialism is far older than colonialism dating back to ancient empires in history but is more commonly associated with the Roman Empire
Colony comes from the Latin word colonus which means ‘to farm’ Imperialism comes from the Latin word ‘imperium’ which means to ‘command’
Examples of colonialism are to be found in the takeover of India, Australia, Southern, and Central Africa by the British and Western and North Africa by the French The Scramble for Africa in the 19th Century and the Chinese domination of Vietnam from 111 BC to 983 AD are examples of Imperialism

Also, read the Difference Between Imperialism and New Imperialism to understand it better.

Imperialism and Colonialism are covered under the History segment of the UPSC IAS Exams. Aspirants can find the links to study this segment thoroughly below:

Difference Between Colonialism and Imperialism – Download PDF Here

Frequently Asked Questions about Colonialism and Imperialism


How did imperialism lead to colonialism?

Imperialism adversely affected the colonies. Under foreign rule, native culture and industry were destroyed. Imported goods wiped out local craft industries. By using colonies as sources of raw materials and markets for manufactured goods, colonial powers held back the colonies from developing industries.

What are the effects of colonization?

Colonialism’s impacts include environmental degradation, the spread of disease, economic instability, ethnic rivalries, and human rights violations—issues that can long outlast one group’s colonial rule.

Aspirants can become familiar with the general pattern of the IAS exam by visiting the IAS Syllabus page. For more preparation materials they can refer to the links given in the table below:

Related Links

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