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[yoo-nuh-lat-er-uh l] /ˌyu nəˈlæt ər əl/
relating to, occurring on, or involving one side only:
unilateral development; a unilateral approach.
undertaken or done by or on behalf of one side, party, or faction only; not mutual:
a unilateral decision; unilateral disarmament.
having only one side or surface; without a reverse side or inside, as a Möbius strip.
  1. pertaining to a contract that can be formed only when the party to whom an offer is made renders the performance for which the offeror bargains.
  2. pertaining to a contract in which obligation rests on only one party, as a binding promise to make a gift.
Botany. having all the parts disposed on one side of an axis, as an inflorescence.
through forebears of one sex only, as through either the mother's or father's line.
Compare bilateral (def 5).
Phonetics. (of an l -sound) characterized by passage of air on only one side of the tongue.
Origin of unilateral
1795-1805; < New Latin ūnilaterālis. See uni-, lateral
Related forms
unilaterality, noun
unilaterally, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for unilaterally
  • The goal should not be to redress economic disparities by unilaterally paying more than the market demands.
  • It is pointless for commissioners to act unilaterally, he said, without a change in public opinion.
  • The more complex communications networks become, the harder it is to disable them swiftly, remotely or unilaterally.
  • The cost to the country imposing sanctions can be large, particularly when it is acting unilaterally.
  • As a consultative body, it cannot prevent any of its members from acting unilaterally.
  • Presidential pardons are granted unilaterally and cannot be reversed.
  • No side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world's inhabitants.
  • He has moved unilaterally to limit greenhouse gases from vehicles and large sources such as coal-burning power plants.
  • To take the decision unilaterally to bomb this plant is not justified.
  • Such a provisions can, however, be unilaterally terminated when the contract expires.
British Dictionary definitions for unilaterally


of, having, affecting, or occurring on only one side
involving or performed by only one party of several: unilateral disarmament
(law) (of contracts, obligations, etc) made by, affecting, or binding one party only and not involving the other party in reciprocal obligations
(botany) having or designating parts situated or turned to one side of an axis
(sociol) relating to or tracing the line of descent through ancestors of one sex only Compare bilateral (sense 5)
(phonetics) denoting an (l) sound produced on one side of the tongue only
Derived Forms
unilateralism, unilaterality, noun
unilaterally, adverb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for unilaterally



1802, from Modern Latin unilateralis, from unum, neuter of unus "one" (see one) + latus (genitive lateralis) "side" (see oblate (n.)). Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) may have been the first to use it in the legal sense of "made or entered into by one party." Unilateral disarmament is recorded from 1929.

It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism, while the wolf remains of a different opinion. [William Ralph Inge, "Outspoken Essays," 1919]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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unilaterally in Medicine

unilateral u·ni·lat·er·al (yōō'nə-lāt'ər-əl)
On, having, or confined to only one side.

u'ni·lat'er·al·ly adv.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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