I know that exploit means: to use someone unfairly for your own advantage / benefit.

for instance as far as I know, one can say:

  • That boss exploits his employees. (meaning that he takes advantage of them and does not pay them sufficiently.)

But what about a country which takes advantage from a country to its own end? How would a native say the following sentence:

  • That country has exploited lots of / many African and Asian countries for centuries.

Is the bold verb above the word you would use here? I would be thankful if you help me with it.

  • 1
    Your dictionary answers this question. The verb exploit does not apply only to persons, and no dictionary defines it that way. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 7:58
  • 2
    @P.E.Dant: To be fair to A-friend, the dictionary in his link says "to use someone unfairly" and the Oxford dictionary says "Benefit unfairly from the work of someone..".
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 10:49
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    The "entirely answerable with a dictionary" close reason is mainly to prevent people from posting questions without consulting a dictionary first. A-friend has consulted a dictionary and still isn't quite sure, so if you think the definition works here, you can put that in an answer instead of a close vote.
    – user230
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 11:18
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    I don't think this should be closed - if a dictionary definition is confusing to a learner and they explain the reason why it is confusing them, I think that is a good question for the site. @P.E.Dant
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 11:49
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    @P.E.Dant It seems obvious to us, but I could imagine that someone might see a distinction between "countries" doing something and "you" or "someone" doing something. I think it's perfectly valid to ask if it is natural to use a particular verb with a country instead of a person, even though we as native speakers think it obviously follows from the definition. Maybe I'm stretching things a bit, but I wonder if it makes more sense to refrain from UVing (or to DV) instead of closing questions where some effort has been made.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 18:02

1 Answer 1


Exploited is fine in this sense. It is a very general term to mean taking advantage, however it does not always have a negative connotation.

The following sentences are examples that follow your explanation of the meaning:

The evil boss exploited his workers by making them work 16 hours per day.

The UK exploits the cheap labour of developing countries.

However without the negative connotation you can use it to just mean taking advantage of something.

The country found a natural spring beneath the ground and exploited it to produce bottled water.

He discovered he was an excellent fisherman and he exploited this to catch and sell many fish.

  • I do think there is a negative connotation in common usage - exploit tends to mean "use unfairly". If you had a positive sense you might want to choose a different word. "He discovered that he was an excellent fisherman and leveraged that to make a lot of money selling fish."
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 12:01
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    Perhaps in some cases, but I think that I could say that I exploit the fact I have a big beard to dress up like Santa at Halloween.
    – NibblyPig
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 12:13
  • Interestingly, derogation is not the default inference of the noun, but only of the verb. Journalists routinely write and wrote of the exploits of athletes and of Sir Edmund Hillary's exploits in mountaineering. Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 19:07

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