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adjective pre·ce·dent \pri-ˈsē-dənt, ˈpre-sə-dənt\

Definition of precedent

  1. :  prior in time, order, arrangement, or significance

Examples of precedent

  1. <behavior that may be explained by a precedent event in her troubled life>

Origin of precedent

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin praecedent-, praecedens, present participle of praecedere (see precede)

First Known Use: 15th century

Rhymes with precedent



noun prec·e·dent \ˈpre-sə-dənt\

Simple Definition of precedent

  • : 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

  1. 1 :  an earlier occurrence of something similar

  2. 2 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

  3. 3 :  a person or thing that serves as a model

Examples of precedent

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. The judge's ruling was based on a precedent established by an earlier decision.

  6. He says that the government will set a dangerous precedent if it refuses to allow the protesters to hold a rally.

  7. The judge's ruling was based on legal precedent.

Origin of precedent

(see 1precedent)

First Known Use: 15th century

PRECEDENT Defined for Kids


noun pre·ce·dent \ˈpre-sə-dənt\

Definition of precedent

  1. :  something that can be used as a rule or example to be followed in the future

Seen and Heard

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February 7, 2016

a slight offense

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