pre·​cept ˈprē-ˌsept How to pronounce precept (audio)
: a command or principle intended especially as a general rule of action
: an order issued by legally constituted authority to a subordinate official
Choose the Right Synonym for precept

law, rule, regulation, precept, statute, ordinance, canon mean a principle governing action or procedure.

law implies imposition by a sovereign authority and the obligation of obedience on the part of all subject to that authority.

obey the law

rule applies to more restricted or specific situations.

the rules of the game

regulation implies prescription by authority in order to control an organization or system.

regulations affecting nuclear power plants

precept commonly suggests something advisory and not obligatory communicated typically through teaching.

the precepts of effective writing

statute implies a law enacted by a legislative body.

a statute requiring the use of seat belts

ordinance applies to an order governing some detail of procedure or conduct enforced by a limited authority such as a municipality.

a city ordinance

canon suggests in nonreligious use a principle or rule of behavior or procedure commonly accepted as a valid guide.

the canons of good taste

Examples of precept in a Sentence

the basic precepts of a religion I was taught by precept and by example.
Recent Examples on the Web Those sharp eyes also kept watch at home, which was strict and faith-filled in following the precepts of the Catholic Church. Chris Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter, 3 Apr. 2024 The subject of what are reasonable boundaries for guests could fill several books, if not a whole house, but Miss Manners takes as a general precept that both host and guest are seeking to avoid embarrassment all around. Judith Martin, The Mercury News, 4 Apr. 2024 One of her core precepts is to go on an artist’s date, a solo excursion to experience new things. Janine MacLachlan, Forbes, 26 Feb. 2024 As teenage boys are wont to do, Reuven and Danny question and challenge many of their elders' precepts. Jim Higgins, Journal Sentinel, 28 Feb. 2024 That has always been the NRA's driving force, and the only thing that changed after 1977 was the militarization of this organizing precept. TIME, 12 Feb. 2024 Pre-emptive rights in a JOA ordinarily apply equally or symmetrically to all partners under the precept that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Ed Hirs, Forbes, 29 Feb. 2024 Bureaucrats, tycoons, and pop stars have been required to endorse it; students now learn it in school; CCP members must use a smartphone app that regularly communicates its precepts. Rana Mitter, Foreign Affairs, 20 Feb. 2024 Their focus on such a fundamental precept − on the survival of the American experiment − underscores how high the stakes of this election seem to many citizens. Susan Page, USA TODAY, 12 Jan. 2024

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

Word History


Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin praeceptum, from neuter of praeceptus, past participle of praecipere to take beforehand, instruct, from prae- + capere to take — more at heave entry 1

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of precept was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near precept

Cite this Entry

“Precept.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


pre·​cept ˈprē-ˌsept How to pronounce precept (audio)
: a command or principle intended as a general rule of action
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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