prec·​a·​to·​ry ˈpre-kə-ˌtȯr-ē How to pronounce precatory (audio)
: expressing a wish

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Nowadays, you're most likely to see "precatory" used in legal contexts to distinguish statements that merely express a wish from those that create a legal obligation. For example, if you add a provision to your will asking someone to take care of your pet if you die, that provision is merely precatory. Outside of jurisprudence, you might see references to such things as "precatory dress codes" or "precatory stockholder proposals" - all of which are non-binding. "Precatory" traces to Latin precari ("to pray"), and it has always referred to something in the nature of an entreaty or supplication. For example, a precatory hymn is one that beseeches "from sin and sorrow set us free" -versus a laudatory hymn (that is, one giving praise).

Examples of precatory in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web That provision was held to be precatory. Dallas News, 20 Mar. 2022 The ExxonMobil board should follow GE’s lead and support reasonable shareholder proposals regarding climate change and recommend that investors vote for them – instead of opposing these precatory shareholder proposals. Robert G. Eccles, Forbes, 6 June 2021

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

Word History


Late Latin precatorius, from Latin precari to pray — more at pray

First Known Use

1636, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of precatory was in 1636


Dictionary Entries Near precatory

Cite this Entry

“Precatory.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Legal Definition


prec·​a·​to·​ry ˈpre-kə-ˌtōr-ē How to pronounce precatory (audio)
: expressing a wish or desire but not creating a legal obligation or affirmative duty
a precatory remark
the precatory words

Note: When interpreting wills, courts will look to whether a direction is precatory or mandatory in carrying out the testator's intent. Thus, courts generally will not construe language to create a trust if the language is only precatory and there is no evidence that the language was intended to create a trust. Words such as with the hope that or it is my wish that are often considered precatory.

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