first degree

1 of 2


US : the level of a crime that is the most serious and warranting the most severe punishment


2 of 2


first-de·​gree ˈfərst-di-ˈgrē How to pronounce first-degree (audio)
US : of the most serious type : warranting the harshest punishment
first-degree murder/theft/arson
: of the least harmful or mildest type
first-degree frostbite
see also first-degree burn

Examples of first degree in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Her boyfriend Louie Hernandez, 61, has now been charged with first degree murder in connection with her death, according to charging documents obtained by PEOPLE. Samira Asma-Sadeque, Peoplemag, 8 May 2024 The course became the prototype for the first degree program in library science for African Americans, which opened in 1925 at Hampton Institute in Virginia. Jingnan Peng, The Christian Science Monitor, 26 Apr. 2024 Clarisa Figueroa changed her plea to guilty of first degree murder on Tuesday. Sarah Rumpf-Whitten, Fox News, 16 Apr. 2024 Now, a new Netflix documentary, What Jennifer Did, released today (April 10), examines how Pan went from a star pianist as a child to her conviction for first degree murder, based on incriminating text messages and interviews with detectives involved in the case. Olivia B. Waxman, TIME, 10 Apr. 2024 Represented by a public defender at Monday’s first court appearance, Dawkins entered a not guilty plea to a charge of first degree murder. David J. Neal, Miami Herald, 9 Apr. 2024 Curd agreed to a plea deal of two concurrent sentences of 25 years in prison for facilitation of first degree murder and testified against Jenelle and Barbara. Katie O'Brien, ABC News, 5 Apr. 2024 Brad Duncan was found guilty in 2023 of first degree domestic assault, armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon, and was sentenced to 34 years in prison. Noelle Alviz-Gransee, Kansas City Star, 5 Apr. 2024 Bobby Banks, Leonard Banks and Wiley Belt have now all been arrested and charged with murder, kidnapping and rape, all in the first degree, in connection with the case, according to authorities. Sara Smart, CNN, 25 Feb. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'first degree.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use


1682, in the meaning defined above


1851, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of first degree was in 1682

Dictionary Entries Near first degree


first degree

first-degree burn

Cite this Entry

“First degree.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 May. 2024.

Medical Definition


: of the lowest or mildest in a series of categories : characterized by or causing the least harmful level of injury
a first-degree laceration
see also first-degree burn compare second-degree, third-degree

Legal Definition

first degree

: the grade given to the most serious forms of crimes
burglary in the first degree
first-degree adjective
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!