noun hi·er·ar·chy \ ˈhī-(ə-)ˌrär-kē also ˈhi(-ə)r-ˌär- \
|Updated on: 17 Jul 2018

Definition of hierarchy

plural hierarchies
1 : a division of angels
2 a : a ruling body of clergy organized into orders or ranks each subordinate to the one above it; especially : the bishops of a province or nation
b : church government by a hierarchy
3 : a body of persons in authority
4 : the classification of a group of people according to ability or to economic, social, or professional standing; also : the group so classified
5 : a graded or ranked series
  • a hierarchy of values

Examples of hierarchy in a Sentence

  1. … he wrote a verse whose metaphors were read somewhere in the Baathist hierarchy as incitement to Kurdish nationalism. —Geraldine BrooksLos Angeles Times30 Dec. 2001
  2. Whereas the monkeys normally hew to strict hierarchies when it comes to who gets the best food and who grooms whom, there are no obvious top or rotten bananas in the sharing of millipede secretions. —Natalie AngierNew York Times5 Dec. 2000
  3. The idea that social order has to come from a centralized, rational, bureaucratic hierarchy was very much associated with the industrial age. —Francis FukuyamaAtlanticMay 1999
  4. The church hierarchy faced resistance to some of their decisions.

  5. He was at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy.

  6. a rigid hierarchy of social classes

Recent Examples of hierarchy from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hierarchy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

What did hierarchy Originally Mean?

The earliest meaning of hierarchy in English has to do with the ranks of different types of angels in the celestial order. The idea of categorizing groups according to rank readily transferred to the organization of priestly or other governmental rule. The word hierarchy is, in fact, related to a number of governmental words in English, such as monarchy, anarchy, and oligarchy, although it itself is now very rarely used in relation to government.

The word comes from the Greek hierarchēs, which was formed by combining the words hieros, meaning “supernatural, holy,” and archos, meaning. “ruler.” Hierarchy has continued to spread its meaning beyond matters ecclesiastical and governmental, and today is commonly found used in reference to any one of a number of different forms of graded classification.

Origin and Etymology of hierarchy

Middle English ierarchie rank or order of holy beings, from Anglo-French jerarchie, from Medieval Latin hierarchia, from Late Greek, from Greek hierarchēs

HIERARCHY Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of hierarchy for English Language Learners

  • : a group that controls an organization and is divided into different levels

  • : a system in which people or things are placed in a series of levels with different importance or status

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to grant as a privilege or special favor

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