: a similar action or event that happened at an earlier time
: something done or said that can be used as an example or rule to be followed in the future
: the usual or traditional way of doing something
Full Definition of PRECEDENT
: an earlier occurrence of something similar
a: something done or said that may serve as an example or rule to authorize or justify a subsequent act of the same or an analogous kind <a verdict that had no precedent>
b: the convention established by such a precedent or by long practice
: a person or thing that serves as a model
See precedent defined for English-language learners
Examples of PRECEDENT
The judge's ruling was based on a precedent established by an earlier decision.
He says that the government will set a dangerous precedent if it refuses to allow the protesters to hold a rally.
The judge's ruling was based on legal precedent.
Suddenly, against all historical precedent just for that week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would have morphed into a well-organized and dependable outfit. —John McWhorter, National Review, 26 Sept. 2005
On July 12, in an action that seems to have been without precedent, the House voted, 355-0, to condemn a scientific article. —Jonathan Rauch, National Journal, 7 Aug. 1999
In cases close-run enough to require the Supreme court to decide them, precedent and principle are elastic enough, or complex enough, that justices can often decide either way without brazenly contradicting themselves. —Henry Louis Gates, Jr., New Republic, 20 & 27 Sept. 1993
We begin to appreciate the mystery when we realize that the act of naming, or denotation, is generically without precedent in natural history. —Walker Percy, “Naming And Being,” 1960, in Signposts in a Strange Land, 1991