precedent

adjective
pre·​ce·​dent | \ pri-ˈsē-dᵊnt How to pronounce precedent (audio) , ˈpre-sə-dənt How to pronounce precedent (audio) \

Definition of precedent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: prior in time, order, arrangement, or significance

precedent

noun
prec·​e·​dent | \ ˈpre-sə-dənt How to pronounce precedent (audio) \

Definition of precedent (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : an earlier occurrence of something similar
2a : something done or said that may serve as an example or rule to authorize or justify a subsequent act of the same or an analogous kind a verdict that had no precedent
b : the convention established by such a precedent or by long practice
3 : a person or thing that serves as a model

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Synonyms & Antonyms for precedent

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Adjective

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Precedent and the Supreme Court

Noun

A precedent is something that precedes, or comes before. The Supreme Court relies on precedents—that is, earlier laws or decisions that provide some example or rule to guide them in the case they're actually deciding. When hostages are being held for ransom, a government may worry about setting a bad precedent if it gives in. And a company might "break with precedent" by naming a foreigner as its president for the first time.

Examples of precedent in a Sentence

Adjective behavior that may be explained by a precedent event in her troubled life Noun Suddenly, against all historical precedent just for that week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would have morphed into a well-organized and dependable outfit. — John McWhorter, National Review, 26 Sept. 2005 On July 12, in an action that seems to have been without precedent, the House voted, 355-0, to condemn a scientific article. — Jonathan Rauch, National Journal, 7 Aug. 1999 In cases close-run enough to require the Supreme court to decide them, precedent and principle are elastic enough, or complex enough, that justices can often decide either way without brazenly contradicting themselves. — Henry Louis Gates, Jr., New Republic, 20 & 27 Sept. 1993 We begin to appreciate the mystery when we realize that the act of naming, or denotation, is generically without precedent in natural history. — Walker Percy, "Naming And Being," 1960, in Signposts in a Strange Land1991 The judge's ruling was based on a precedent established by an earlier decision. He says that the government will set a dangerous precedent if it refuses to allow the protesters to hold a rally. The judge's ruling was based on legal precedent.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Judge Barrett did not entirely embrace the notion of super-precedent. Jonathan Turley, WSJ, "Amy Coney Barrett Opens Up," 15 Oct. 2020 Many legal scholars question the basis for declaring an ever-wider array of cases to be super-precedent as a way to protect favored rulings. Jonathan Turley, WSJ, "Amy Coney Barrett Opens Up," 15 Oct. 2020 Britain has no clear privacy law, so precedent matters. The Economist, "Prince Harry accuses the press of hounding Meghan as it did Diana," 3 Oct. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Celebrities in eligible groups, such as Sanjay Gupta and Ian McKellan, have also begun posing for photos while getting their shots—a tradition with historical precedent. Brit Trogen, The Atlantic, "Go Ahead, Share Your Vaccine Selfie," 14 Jan. 2021 The series will likely keep up with the precedent set by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and occur in time with happenings in the MCU, so cameos and Easter eggs are likely to crop up as the series gets going. Madison Durham, USA TODAY, "How to watch The Falcon and The Winter Soldier," 1 Jan. 2021 Five executions were scheduled before the Jan. 20 inauguration, breaking with a 130-year-old precedent of pausing executions during the presidential transition period, according to the BBC. Mica Soellner, Washington Examiner, "Judge delays execution of sole woman on death row," 25 Dec. 2020 For all the ways that this election broke with precedent, the county-level vote pattern in 2020 was overwhelmingly similar to that in 2016. New York Times, "The Places That Had the Biggest Swings Toward and Against Trump," 7 Dec. 2020 With no precedent for overturning a result as large as Biden's, Trump was widely expected to head to court once the recount was finished. Arkansas Online, "Completed Wisconsin recount confirms Biden's win over Trump," 29 Nov. 2020 With no precedent for overturning a result as large as Biden’s, Trump was widely expected to head to court once the recount was finished. chicagotribune.com, "Wisconsin recount confirms Joe Biden’s win over Donald Trump," 29 Nov. 2020 Trump, breaking with precedent, declined to reappoint Yellen as chairwoman of the Federal Reserve in 2018. Anchorage Daily News, "Biden’s nominees have pushed policies that Trump used to fuel his rise," 24 Nov. 2020 In September, Williams, the department chief, broke with precedent and fired McMahon. Shane Bauer, The New Yorker, "How a Deadly Police Force Ruled a City," 16 Nov. 2020

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

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First Known Use of precedent

Adjective

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Noun

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for precedent

Adjective and Noun

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin praecedent-, praecedens, present participle of praecedere — see precede

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Time Traveler for precedent

Time Traveler

The first known use of precedent was in the 15th century

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Statistics for precedent

Last Updated

21 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“Precedent.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/precedent. Accessed 22 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for precedent

precedent

noun
How to pronounce precedent (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of precedent

somewhat formal
: a similar action or event that happened at an earlier time
: something done or said that can be used as an example or rule to be followed in the future
: the usual or traditional way of doing something

precedent

noun
pre·​ce·​dent | \ ˈpre-sə-dənt How to pronounce precedent (audio) \

Kids Definition of precedent

: something that can be used as a rule or example to be followed in the future

precedent

adjective
pre·​ce·​dent | \ pri-ˈsēd-ᵊnt, ˈpre-səd- How to pronounce precedent (audio) \

Legal Definition of precedent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: prior in time, order, arrangement, or significance — see also condition precedent at condition — compare subsequent

precedent

noun
prec·​e·​dent | \ ˈpre-səd-ᵊnt How to pronounce precedent (audio) \

Legal Definition of precedent (Entry 2 of 2)

: a judicial decision that should be followed by a judge when deciding a later similar case — see also stare decisis — compare dictum

Note: To serve as precedent for a pending case, a prior decision must have a similar question of law and factual situation. If the precedent is from the same or a superior jurisdiction (as the state's supreme court), it is binding upon the court and must be followed; if the precedent is from another jurisdiction (as another state's supreme court), it is considered only persuasive. Precedents may be overruled especially by the same court that originally rendered the decision.

History and Etymology for precedent

Adjective

Middle French, from Latin praecedent- praecedens, present participle of praecedere to go ahead of, come before

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Comments on precedent

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