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Oppress vs. Subjugate: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 15, 2023
To oppress is to exercise harsh and authoritarian control over people; to subjugate is to bring under complete control or subordination.

Key Differences

Oppression typically involves a systemic and persistent mistreatment or unjust exercise of authority. It's an overarching concept that can include acts that enforce hardship and inequality, often on a societal level. Oppression is exerted by a ruling group against another, and it can manifest through policies, societal norms, or direct actions that discriminate or marginalize.
Subjugation, in comparison, is the act of bringing someone or something under control, often by conquest or defeat. It is the process of making a group obedient to an authority. Subjugation can be a result of oppression but denotes a more absolute and definitive control over a person or group, often implying a forceful or violent process.
Oppression can exist without direct violence; it can be psychological or institutional and doesn't necessarily imply physical force. It is about creating and maintaining barriers, whether visible or invisible, that reinforce inequalities. Oppressive actions can be subtle, like social exclusion or the enforcement of stereotypes.
Subjugation often results from overt force or the threat thereof and carries with it the connotation of subduing and establishing dominance over a group or individual. Unlike oppression, which can be systematic and involve a range of discriminatory practices, subjugation is more about the act of domination and the state of being under control.
While oppression is a broad term that encompasses the systemic degradation of a group’s dignity, rights, and freedoms, subjugation is more about the loss of independence or freedom. Subjugation is a component of oppression but is specifically related to control and domination.

Comparison Chart


To exercise harsh control over
To bring under complete control


Can be systemic and psychological
Usually involves physical control


Through policies, norms, discrimination
Through conquest or force


Endurance of hardship and inequality
Loss of independence or freedom


Not necessarily present
Often involves or implies force

Oppress and Subjugate Definitions


To oppress can also mean to weigh heavily on someone’s mind.
The memory of the accident continued to oppress her.


Subjugate means to bring under domination or control, especially by conquest.
The invaders sought to subjugate the indigenous population.


Oppress can mean to crush or burden by abuse of power or authority.
The leadership oppressed any form of dissent.


To subjugate is to make someone or something subordinate to.
The new manager quickly subjugated the staff to his authority.


Oppress means to keep someone in subservience and hardship.
The regime was known to oppress its citizens.


Subjugate implies bringing under control by force or persuasion.
The general subjugated the rebels without a single battle.


Oppress involves subjecting a group to a burdensome or cruel exercise of authority.
Laws were used to oppress the minority group.


To subjugate can mean to reduce the power, independence, or freedom of a person or group.
The company's monopoly subjugated the smaller competitors.


To oppress means to cause distress or anxiety.
The oppressive heat of the desert made exploration difficult.


To bring under control, especially by military force; conquer.


To keep down by severe and unjust use of force or authority
A people who were oppressed by tyranny.


To make subordinate or subject to the dominion of something else
"The urgency of the mating season is subjugated, for the moment, to the demands of self-preservation" (David M. Carroll).


To cause to feel worried or depressed
"People were at a loss ... oppressed by the atmosphere of the dead man's room" (Ward Just).


(transitive) To forcibly impose obedience or servitude upon.


(Obsolete) To overwhelm or crush.


In a subjugated position.


(transitive) To keep down by unjust force.
The rural poor were oppressed by the land-owners.


To subdue, and bring under the yoke of power or dominion; to conquer by force, and compel to submit to the government or absolute control of another; to vanquish.
He subjugated a king, and called him his "vassal."


(transitive) To make sad or gloomy.
We were oppressed by the constant grey skies.


Put down by force or intimidation;
The government quashes any attempt of an uprising
China keeps down her dissidents very efficiently
The rich landowners subjugated the peasants working the land


Physically to press down on (someone) with harmful effects; to smother, crush.


Make subservient; force to submit or subdue


To impose excessive burdens upon; to overload; hence, to treat with unjust rigor or with cruelty.
For thee, oppressèd king, am I cast down.
Behold the kings of the earth; how they oppressThy chosen!


Subjugate also refers to overcoming and rendering ineffectual.
She subjugated her fears and climbed the mountain successfully.


To ravish; to violate.


To put down; to crush out; to suppress.
The mutiny he there hastes to oppress.


To produce a sensation of weight in (some part of the body); as, my lungs are oppressed by the damp air; excess of food oppresses the stomach.


Come down on or keep down by unjust use of one's authority;
The government oppresses political activists


Cause to suffer;
Jews were persecuted in the former Soviet Union


Does subjugation require physical force?

Subjugation often, but not always, involves physical force or the threat of it to gain control over a person or group.

Are oppressed people always aware of their oppression?

Not always; oppression can be insidious and systemic, making it less visible to those who are not directly affected by it.

Can entire populations be subjugated?

Yes, entire populations can be subjugated, usually through force or conquest, leading to a loss of freedom and autonomy.

Is oppression always intentional?

Oppression can be both intentional and unintentional, as it can be a result of systemic issues within a society.

What does it mean to oppress someone?

To oppress someone means to subject them to harsh and authoritarian control, often involving the deprivation of fundamental rights.

What is the difference between being oppressed and subjugated?

Being oppressed relates to a wider range of control mechanisms, while being subjugated refers specifically to being under complete control, often by force.

Can one escape oppression?

Escaping oppression is challenging and often requires systemic change, but it is possible through collective action and reform.

Can oppression be legal?

Unfortunately, certain forms of oppression can be legalized through discriminatory laws and regulations.

How does subjugation affect society?

Subjugation can lead to social and economic disparities, loss of cultural identity, and a decline in the overall well-being of a society.

Is subjugation a form of oppression?

Subjugation is a form of oppression that specifically involves domination and control.

What role does power play in oppression?

Power dynamics are central to oppression, as it involves a more powerful group exercising control over a less powerful one.

How do individuals resist oppression?

Individuals resist oppression through advocacy, protest, legal challenges, and by building awareness.

Can subjugation be psychological?

While subjugation is often physical, it can also be psychological, especially when it involves coercing someone into obedience or inferiority.

Can oppression exist without subjugation?

Yes, oppression can exist in forms that do not necessarily involve the complete domination that characterizes subjugation.

How does one recognize subjugation?

Subjugation can be recognized by the loss of freedom, autonomy, and the presence of coercive control.

Is subjugation always negative?

Subjugation is generally seen as negative because it involves subduing and undermining the will and rights of others.

How can societies prevent subjugation?

Societies can prevent subjugation by promoting equality, justice, and by safeguarding human rights.

What are the effects of long-term oppression?

Long-term oppression can lead to economic and social inequality, psychological trauma, and cultural erosion.

Can oppression be systemic?

Oppression is often systemic, affecting groups of people through institutionalized discrimination or social norms.

Can subjugation be reversed?

Subjugation can be reversed, but it typically requires significant social, political, and sometimes military efforts to restore autonomy and rights.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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