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

Keep scrolling for more

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

But the scandal has spread far beyond El Bosque and has implicated the Chilean hierarchy, which has sought to place the blame on the church's dramatic loss of moral authority on the Karadima scandal alone. Nicole Winfield, chicagotribune.com, "Pope Francis digs deeper into roots of Chile sex abuse scandal," 2 June 2018 Other than that, the meeting is by men and for men — the hierarchy of the church. Nicole Winfield, The Seattle Times, "Pope strives to fight cleric sex abuse with Vatican summit," 20 Feb. 2019 This communication cycle is reflected on the company’s organizational chart—not the typical inverted pyramid of hierarchy, but rather a circle. Francine Maroukian, Popular Mechanics, "The Limitless Uses of Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty," 26 Dec. 2018 Class is a way of describing the economic, political, and cultural divisions in our societal hierarchy. Kim Kelly, Teen Vogue, "What the "Working Class" Is, and How It's Politicized," 13 Dec. 2018 The friends, led by T.J., try to enjoy their time during recess while adhering to the rules of King Bob and others who rank above them in the school’s hierarchy. Tamara Fuentes, Seventeen, "25 Amazing Disney Channel Shows That You Need to Binge ASAP," 8 Aug. 2018 At zero hierarchy, individuals act disparately and the uncoordinated group output is minimal. WSJ, "Letters: Constructal Law Faces the Deconstructalists," 8 Feb. 2019 Instead of finding unity, though, even the underdogs form a hierarchy and screw each other over. Aaron Gilbreath, Longreads, "The Man Who Painted the Cover of Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’ Album Didn’t Get Paid What It’s Worth," 11 May 2018 It has been vetted throughout the church by the hierarchy, and everything he's written has been approved. Lawrence Specker, AL.com, "Spring Hill College backs speaker, despite controversy," 30 Apr. 2018

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about hierarchy

Statistics for hierarchy

Last Updated

10 Apr 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for hierarchy

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for hierarchy

hierarchy

noun

English Language Learners Definition of hierarchy

: 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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on hierarchy

What made you want to look up hierarchy? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

not to be persuaded, moved, or stopped

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Latin Quiz

  • roman forum
  • Which of the following months comes from a Latin word for “ten”?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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