Difference Between Colonialism and Imperialism | Imperialism vs Colonialism

By Shivank Goel|Updated : September 28th, 2022

Imperialism vs Colonialism: Although both Colonialism and Imperialism mean the political and economic dominance of the other. Yet there is a significant difference between the two. Colonialism is a physical act of setting up certain territories or colonies in any other country apart from the native one. While the term imperialism is used to refer to a country's policy of using force or diplomacy to take over lands.

In simpler words, Imperialism can be considered an idea driving the practice, and colonialism is the practice. Though both mean one country's domination over the other, there is a subtle difference between Colonialism and Imperialism, which is explained in detail below.

Table of Content

Imperialism vs Colonialism

Colonialism is defined as the force to take over other territories or colonies to expand their rule. However, they still maintain allegiance to their mother country. Colonialism is a form of Imperialism, but the latter is broader in scope. The imperial powers seek to expand their empire and spread their dominance far and wide. In this article, you will learn about the difference between colonialism and Imperialism in detail along with a brief detail about the two.

Imperialism vs Colonialism UPSC

The difference between Imperialism and Colonialism can be understood based on various factors and examples. The rule of England over India and other countries is an example of colonialism, while an example of imperialism is when a powerful and rich country like the USA dominates over other countries which are not as rich and powerful as the imperialist is.

What is Colonialism?

Colonialism is the practice of expanding control over a foreign region by setting up colonies or dependencies within the area. It is exercised for the economic exploitation of the host country. Colonizers also often propagate their culture, language, and religion to these colonies. The British Raj in India from 1858 till the country's independence in 1947 is an example of Colonialism. It can be of various kinds:

  • Settler Colonialism: Where one country settles over another, seeking to replace the native population of that region.
  • Exploitation Colonialism: Where a powerful country seeks to exploit weaker nations' natural resources and labor by force.
  • Surrogate Colonialism: Where a ruling power encourages and supports a nation to overtake and control another nation.
  • Internal Colonialism: Where a powerful group in society dominates the weaker group within that society.

What is Imperialism?

Imperialism is a nation's policy of extending power and influence over other countries through diplomacy or force. It is the ideology behind Colonialism. A country can rule over another country through soft power (political or economic power) or hard power (military force).

The three major types of Imperialism besides Colonialism are,

  • Protectorate: In this type, although a country has its government, a stronger foreign government decides for them.
  • Sphere of Influence: It occurs when a foreign government, through its power, claims certain rights and benefits, including trade and investment privileges.
  • Economic Imperialism: It is when private businesses control and influence a country's economy.

Difference Between Colonialism and Imperialism

The major difference between Colonialism and Imperialism based on their meaning, aims, features, focus, eco-political aspects, and examples is given in the table below:

Basis of Difference




Colonialism is the practice of dividing the region into colonies to assume physical control over those regions.

Imperialism refers to the political or economic suppression of one nation by another through soft or hard power.


It aims to exploit the resources of the conquered countries for the benefit of the conqueror.

It seeks to create an empire, expand into neighboring regions, and exert its dominance far and wide.


In Colonialism, many people from one region move to another territory to build colonies. The colonies gradually alter the region's social, physical, and economic structure.

Such mass movement is not a feature of Imperialism.

Eco-political Aspects

The native people have to give up on their way of life as it is usually destroyed.

The native people are allowed to continue with their own way of life.


Colonialism focuses on gaining economic access by exploitation.

Imperialism also focuses on developing those regions through economic and political control.


The settlers came together and formed colonies.

The settlers do not live in the country they are dominating.


Settlement and control of Europeans in India, Australia, North America, Algeria, Brazil, etc., is an example of Colonialism.

The United States looking to become a world power is an instance of Imperialism.

These were the major differences of Colonialism vs Imperialism. To conclude, in Colonialism, there is an establishment of the colony of dominators on the foreign land, while in the case of imperialism, a country takes over a region or whole country. Nowadays, Colonialism is not a common practice.

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FAQs on Imperialism vs Colonialism

  • Both colonialism and imperialism mean the domination of one country over another. But, there is a significant difference between them, making them different. Colonialism is defined as the physical takeover of a country by another powerful country. In contrast, Imperialism is about exerting control over another country through direct and indirect means to establish command.

  • The difference between Colonialism and Imperialism is that Imperialism refers to the political or economic suppression of one nation by another through soft or hard power; on the other hand, Colonialism is the practice of dividing the region into colonies to assume physical control over those regions.

  • Imperialism and colonialism are two different terms with different meanings. The former means the social and economic control of one country over another by soft or hard power, while the latter means taking over full control of a country by colonial rulers.

  • The main difference between Imperialism and Colonialism is that while Colonialism seeks to exploit the resources of weaker countries, Imperialism aims to create an empire and spread its dominance far and wide. Imperial is derived from the Latin word 'imperium,' which means to command; Colonialism, on the other hand, is derived from the word 'Colonia,' which means a 'land,' and 'Colonus,' which means to inhabit.

  • Imperialism is a hard practice that causes a harsh effect on the colonies. All the native industries and the prevailing culture get destroyed under the foreign rule. The goods imported from the dominant country wipe out the industries related to the local art. Seeing all these changes, the foreign countries use colonies as a source of raw materials and a potential market for manufacturing the goods.

  • Imperialism vs Colonialism UPSC notes are available here and can be downloaded easily for the upcoming exam preparation. Aspirants preparing for the UPSC exam must read this article thoroughly and make handwritten notes to answer questions related to this topic.

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