primary

1 of 3

adjective

pri·​ma·​ry ˈprī-ˌmer-ē How to pronounce primary (audio) ˈprī-mə-rē How to pronounce primary (audio)
ˈprīm-rē
1
: first in order of time or development : primitive
the primary stage of civilization
the primary lesion of a disease
2
a
: of first rank, importance, or value : principal
the primary purpose
b
: basic, fundamental
security is a primary need
c
: of, relating to, or constituting the principal flight feathers of a bird's wing
d
: of or relating to agriculture, forestry, and the extractive industries or their products
e
: expressive of present or future time
primary tense
f
: of, relating to, or constituting the strongest of the three or four degrees of stress recognized by most linguists
the first syllable of basketball carries primary stress
3
a
: direct, firsthand
primary sources of information
b
: not derivable from other colors, odors, or tastes
c
: preparatory to something else in a continuing process
primary instruction
d
: of or relating to a primary school
primary education
e
: of or relating to a primary election
a primary candidate
f
: belonging to the first group or order in successive divisions, combinations, or ramifications
primary nerves
g
: directly derived from ores
primary metals
h
: of, relating to, or being the amino acid sequence in proteins
primary protein structure
4
: resulting from the substitution of one of two or more atoms or groups in a molecule
a primary amine
especially : being or characterized by a carbon atom having a bond to only one other carbon atom
5
: of, relating to, involving, or derived from primary meristem
primary tissue
primary growth
6
: of, relating to, or involved in the production of organic substances by green plants
primary productivity
7
: providing primary care
a primary physician

primary

2 of 3

noun

plural primaries
1
: something that stands first in rank, importance, or value : fundamental
usually used in plural
2
: the celestial body around which one or more other celestial bodies revolve
especially : the more massive usually brighter component of a binary star system
3
: one of the usually 9 or 10 strong flight feathers on the distal joint of a bird's wing see wing illustration
4
b
: the sensation of seeing primary colors
5
a
: caucus
b
: an election in which qualified voters nominate or express a preference for a particular candidate or group of candidates for political office, choose party officials, or select delegates for a party convention
6
: the coil that is connected to the source of electricity in an induction coil or transformer

called also primary coil

primary

3 of 3

verb

primaried; primarying; primaries

transitive verb

: to run against (an incumbent) in a primary election
She won the seat in 2020 after successfully primarying a veteran Democrat in the district.Brianne Pfannenstiel
usually used in the passive
But he's apparently going to be primaried—by a couple of people you've never heard of …Gail Collins
He served a single term … but was primaried, and soundly defeated, in his bid for reelection.Daniel Foster

Examples of primary in a Sentence

Adjective The economy was the primary focus of the debate. The family is the primary social unit of human life. The primary function of our schools is to educate our young people. We just started our primary flight training. The book is based mainly on primary sources rather than secondary sources.
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
In South and Southeast Asia, the primary barrier to Chinese hegemony is a line of less-than-ideal partners running from India to Indonesia. Hal Brands, Foreign Affairs, 20 Feb. 2024 Glitzy plans for the capital The Taliban has big plans for postwar reconstruction, but restrictions on women could become the primary obstacle. Rick Noack, Washington Post, 19 Feb. 2024 Our open primary system allows everyone to vote on the same ballot, regardless of their party. George Skelton, Los Angeles Times, 19 Feb. 2024 In that scenario, the primary offer would be free delivery for a monthly fee. Nikki Baird, Forbes, 19 Feb. 2024 Before covering the tree, tie the branches with a rope or twine to help protect the primary growth. Southern Living Editors, Southern Living, 19 Feb. 2024 While the early primary results suggest the country is hurtling toward a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, many Americans believe alternative candidates could be swapped in. Brendan Rascius, Miami Herald, 19 Feb. 2024 Police said Sunday that the primary focus of the investigation has been on the victims and pursuing justice for them and their families. Greg Wehner, Fox News, 18 Feb. 2024 Her primary adversary of late, Nicki Minaj, has little to prove, with her career already solidified, especially after notching another No. 1 album with Pink Friday 2 last fall. Carl Lamarre, Billboard, 7 Feb. 2024
Noun
One of Gaetz’s main opponents in the primary was Cris Dosev, a combat veteran and a father of eight who advocated balanced budgets and a vigorous foreign policy. Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker, 19 Feb. 2024 The front-runner of the GOP presidential primary has made multiple public appearances since Russia announced Navalny’s death in a faraway Arctic penal colony on Friday. Mariana Alfaro, Washington Post, 18 Feb. 2024 One Thing: Age on the trail In this week’s One Thing podcast, CNN’s Kylie Atwood asks how older voters in South Carolina feel about age as a campaign issue ahead of the GOP primary later this week. Andrew Torgan, CNN, 18 Feb. 2024 The county finally sent in an outside consultant, and Robert Telles lost his bid for re-election in the primary, ironically, to his arch enemy: Rita Reid. Peter Van Sant, CBS News, 17 Feb. 2024 Sebastian Gehrig and Trey Hunt are running in the Democratic primary. Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 15 Feb. 2024 An independent campaign not only attacked Saldaña, but promoted Republican Linda Lukacs, who finished second in the primary. Michael Smolens, San Diego Union-Tribune, 14 Feb. 2024 Trump is also leading Haley by 59 points in Michigan, which will hold its GOP primary on Feb. 27. Sara Dorn, Forbes, 14 Feb. 2024 In the final stretch leading up to the South Carolina primary, Nikki Haley is hammering former president Donald Trump over his history of attacking U.S. service members, including her own husband. Brittany Bernstein, National Review, 14 Feb. 2024
Verb
Another fight erupted in 2004, when the mayor of Jersey City recruited Steven Fulop to try to primary Mr. Menendez. Nicholas Fandos, New York Times, 27 Sep. 2023 New district lines have forced incumbents to primary each other in Michigan, Georgia and West Virginia. Arit John, Los Angeles Times, 11 Jan. 2022 In his recent memoir, Hogan claims that members of Trump's cabinet asked him to primary the president. Tyler Olson, Fox News, 23 Sep. 2020 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

Adjective

Middle English primarye, primary "original, earliest," borrowed from Latin prīmārius "of the highest importance or station (of persons), first-rate, chief" (Late Latin, "original, lying at the beginning," Medieval Latin, "foremost, leading"), from prīmus "first, foremost, earliest, of first importance" + -ārius -ary entry 2 — more at prime entry 2

Noun

in part borrowed from Late Latin prīmārius "person leading, leader," noun derivative of Latin prīmārius "of the highest importance or station, chief, primary entry 1"; in part noun derivative of primary entry 1, or shortened from collocations with the adjective; (sense 5) shortened from primary election, earlier primary assembly, translation of French assemblée primaire

Verb

derivative of primary entry 2

First Known Use

Adjective

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

1656, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb

1958, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of primary was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near primary

Cite this Entry

“Primary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/primary. Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

primary

1 of 2 adjective
1
: first in time or development : initial, primitive
the primary stage of a civilization
2
a
: of first rank, importance, or value
our primary duties
b
: basic entry 1 sense 1, fundamental
the family is the primary unit of human association
c
: of, relating to, or being one of the principal flight feathers of a bird's wing located on the outer joint
d
: of, relating to, or being the strongest of three levels of stress in pronunciation
3
a
: not made or coming from something else : firsthand
a primary source of information
b
: of, relating to, or being the current or circuit that is connected to the source of electricity in an induction coil or transformer

primary

2 of 2 noun
plural primaries
1
: one of the usually nine or ten strong flight feathers on the outer joint of a bird's wing
2
3
: an election in which members of a political party nominate candidates for office
4
: the coil that is connected to the source of electricity in an induction coil or transformer

called also primary coil

Medical Definition

primary

1 of 2 adjective
1
a(1)
: first in order of time or development
(2)
: relating to or being the milk teeth and especially the 20 milk teeth in the human set
b(1)
: arising spontaneously : idiopathic
primary insomnia
the absence of any pelvic abnormality confirmed the diagnosis of primary dysmenorrhea
(2)
: being an initial tumor or site especially of cancer
efforts to find the primary tumor have failedRaphael Feinmesser
c
: providing primary care
a primary physician
2
: not derivable from other colors, odors, or tastes
3
: belonging to the first group or order in successive divisions, combinations, or ramifications
primary nerves
4
: of, relating to, or being the amino acid sequence in proteins
primary protein structure
compare secondary sense 3, tertiary entry 2 sense 2c
5
: resulting from the substitution of one of two or more atoms or groups in a molecule
especially : being or characterized by a carbon atom having a bond to only one other carbon atom

primary

2 of 2 noun
plural primaries

Legal Definition

primary

1 of 2 adjective
pri·​ma·​ry ˈprī-ˌmer-ē, -mə-rē How to pronounce primary (audio)
1
: of first rank, value, or importance
2
: belonging to the first group or order in successive divisions, combinations, or ramifications
primarily adverb

primary

2 of 2 noun
plural primaries
1
: caucus
2
: an election in which qualified voters nominate or express a preference for a particular candidate or group of candidates for political office, choose party officials, or select delegates for a party convention

More from Merriam-Webster on primary

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