adjective pre·vi·ous \ ˈprē-vē-əs \
|Updated on: 18 Jul 2018

Definition of previous

1 : going before in time or order : prior
  • the previous owners
  • previous attempts had failed
  • reread the previous page
2 : acting too soon : premature
  • somewhat previous in his conclusion


    • Physicists have constructed a pipette that dispenses a billionth of a trillionth of a liter, a droplet that's a thousand times as small as volumes previously achieved.
    • —A. Cunningham
    • Previously, many mutations have been induced by harsh treatments such as X rays, UV light or chemicals.
    • —Kevin Struhl


    • Had I been capable of looking closer then, I might have asked myself why every kind of previousness miraculously survived there …
    • —Robyn Davidson

Examples of previous in a Sentence

  1. She has a child from a previous marriage.

  2. The two characters met in a previous chapter.

  3. the previous owners of the house

Recent Examples of previous from the Web

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

Origin and Etymology of previous

Latin praevius leading the way, from prae- pre- + via way — more at way

Synonym Discussion of previous

preceding, antecedent, foregoing, previous, prior, former, anterior mean being before. preceding usually implies being immediately before in time or in place.
    • the preceding sentence
antecedent applies to order in time and may suggest a causal relation.
    • conditions antecedent to the revolution
foregoing applies chiefly to statements.
    • the foregoing remarks
previous and prior imply existing or occurring earlier, but prior often adds an implication of greater importance.
    • a child from a previous marriage
    • a prior obligation
former implies always a definite comparison or contrast with something that is latter.
    • the former name of the company
anterior applies to position before or ahead of usually in space, sometimes in time or order.
    • the anterior lobe of the brain

PREVIOUS Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of previous for English Language Learners

  • : existing or happening before the present time

  • : earlier in time or order

  • : immediately before in time or order

PREVIOUS Defined for Kids


adjective pre·vi·ous \ ˈprē-vē-əs \

Definition of previous for Students

: going before in time or order : preceding
  • No previous experience is needed.



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