hierarchy

noun
hi·​er·​ar·​chy | \ ˈhī-(ə-)ˌrär-kē also ˈhi(-ə)r-ˌär- How to pronounce hierarchy (audio) \
plural hierarchies

Definition of hierarchy

1 : a division of angels
2a : 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

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.

Examples of hierarchy in a Sentence

… he wrote a verse whose metaphors were read somewhere in the Baathist hierarchy as incitement to Kurdish nationalism. — Geraldine Brooks, Los Angeles Times, 30 Dec. 2001 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 Angier, New York Times, 5 Dec. 2000 The idea that social order has to come from a centralized, rational, bureaucratic hierarchy was very much associated with the industrial age. — Francis Fukuyama, Atlantic, May 1999 The church hierarchy faced resistance to some of their decisions. He was at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy. a rigid hierarchy of social classes See More
Recent Examples on the Web Though Pastor pretends to be a prisoner with a fake name and fake case, he's forced to navigate San Onofre's hierarchy. Selena Barrientos, Good Housekeeping, 29 July 2022 Instead, the partnership is a dynamic body that sees members come and go, while allowing senior executives to better collaborate and override bureaucracy and hierarchy, the company said. Raffaele Huang, WSJ, 26 July 2022 Within this hierarchy of buckets, assets spill down over time from the riskiest buckets to the least risky buckets. Chris Carosa, Forbes, 25 July 2022 In some senses, the top of the large cardinal hierarchy is in sight. Dave Linkletter, Popular Mechanics, 22 July 2022 Coleman acknowledged that America’s ever-changing sprint hierarchy makes continuity a challenge. Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times, 21 July 2022 Strange Fire Collective, formed in 2015, is a group of interdisciplinary artists, curators, and writers focused on work that engages with current social and political forces and critically questions the dominant social hierarchy. Vogue, 7 July 2022 The channel had initially been run by the club’s communications department before moving into marketing as part of a new digital strategy implemented by the club’s hierarchy. New York Times, 29 June 2022 Christendom had sanctified hierarchy in its church order for centuries. Marilynne Robinson, Harper’s Magazine , 20 July 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of hierarchy

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for hierarchy

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

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Time Traveler for hierarchy

Time Traveler

The first known use of hierarchy was in the 14th century

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Dictionary Entries Near hierarchy

hierarchize

hierarchy

hieratic

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Statistics for hierarchy

Last Updated

4 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Hierarchy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hierarchy. Accessed 14 Aug. 2022.

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Nglish: Translation of hierarchy for Spanish Speakers

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