prim·​i·​tive | \ ˈpri-mə-tiv How to pronounce primitive (audio) \

Definition of primitive

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : not derived : original, primary
b : assumed as a basis especially : axiomatic primitive concepts
2a : of or relating to the earliest age or period : primeval the primitive church
b : closely approximating an early ancestral type : little evolved primitive mammals
c : belonging to or characteristic of an early stage of development : crude, rudimentary primitive technology
d : of, relating to, or constituting the assumed parent speech of related languages primitive Germanic
3a : elemental, natural our primitive feelings of vengeance— John Mackwood
b sometimes offensive : of, relating to, or produced by a people or culture that is nonindustrial and often nonliterate and tribal primitive art
c : naive
d(1) : self-taught, untutored primitive craftsmen
(2) : produced by a self-taught artist a primitive painting



Definition of primitive (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : something primitive specifically : a primitive idea, term, or proposition
b : a root word
2a(1) : an artist of an early period of a culture or artistic movement
(2) : a later imitator or follower of such an artist
b(1) : a self-taught artist
(2) : an artist whose work is marked by directness and naïveté
c : a work of art produced by a primitive artist
d : a typically rough or simple usually handmade and antique home accessory or furnishing
3a : a member of a primitive people
b : an unsophisticated person

Other Words from primitive


primitively adverb
primitiveness noun
primitivity \ ˌpri-​mə-​ˈti-​və-​tē How to pronounce primitive (audio) \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for primitive

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Adjective

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Examples of primitive in a Sentence

Adjective the time when primitive man first learned to use fire The technology they used was primitive and outdated. The camp had only a primitive outdoor toilet. Noun The museum is known for its collection of American primitives.
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Houde said these mammoth animals are a primitive group of proboscideans ('elephantoids') from which modern elephants evolved. Joseph J. Kolb, Fox News, 18 July 2017 Many are primitive and remote, and don’t have restrooms or water., 12 July 2017 Here's how to tackle a daunting job A primitive drip irrigation system could be cobbled together by running water through an old garden hose that's riddled with holes along its length and has its end plugged. Lee Reich, Detroit Free Press, 7 July 2017 The park offers primitive and RV camping with 41 campsites, 30 of which feature 30- to 50-amp electric, water and sewer. Joe Songer |,, 22 June 2017 Constructed in front of the stone ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City, that caveman-evocative set provides a suitably primitive stomping ground for the monstrous Caliban. Mike Giuliano, Howard County Times, 23 June 2017 A lot of the campgrounds are primitive, and lack some common amenities - including water. Jamie Hale,, 6 July 2017 South Beach Campground, a primitive campground located just south of Kalaloch is open through September 25. Brian J. Cantwell, The Seattle Times, 28 June 2017 Can primitive materials bring us closer to our origins? Daisy Alioto, GQ, 23 June 2017 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Decentralized stablecoins are a crucial financial primitive for any DeFi ecosystem. Leeor Shimron, Forbes, 27 Oct. 2021 And only a primitive would shoot an AR chambered in .223 without a matching .223 riflescope. Andrew Mckean, Outdoor Life, 18 Aug. 2020 Each threadgroup can access groupshared memory but can output vertices and primitives that don't need to correlate with a specific thread in the group. Jim Salter, Ars Technica, 19 Mar. 2020 Skipping primitive instantiation with config tweaks Developers can optimize ray tracing pipelines by skipping unnecessary primitives. Jim Salter, Ars Technica, 19 Mar. 2020 Microsoft is also asking developers to start thinking about dual-screen layouts for Microsoft Edge, with CSS primitives and a JavaScript API. Mark Hachman, PCWorld, 22 Jan. 2020 Featuring over 200 dealers, the show offers antiques, vintage jewelry, primitives, garden & architectural elements, mid-century collectibles, memorabilia, Americana, one-of-a-kind finds and a large selection of antiques, retro & vintage furniture. Luann Gibbs,, 14 July 2019 Later watercolors, decades beyond the din of war, capture black subjects as romanticized primitives amid the burgeoning growth of the Caribbean tourist industry — coral diving here, swigging from a coconut there., 4 Oct. 2019 Since that time, computer scientists have developed a large library of such primitives. Quanta Magazine, 10 Dec. 2012 See More

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

First Known Use of primitive


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for primitive


Middle English prymytyff, primitive "early (of the Christian church), non-corporeal (of the cause of a disease)," borrowed from Middle French & Medieval Latin; Middle French primitif "original, primary (of a cause)," borrowed from Medieval Latin prīmitīvus "belonging to the earliest time or state, original," going back to Latin, "early, first-formed," from prīmitus "at first, for the first time, originally" (from prīmus "first, foremost, earliest" + -itus, adverbial suffix of origin) + -īvus -ive — more at prime entry 2


noun derivative of primitive entry 1; (sense 1b) Middle English, borrowed from Medieval Latin prīmitīvus, noun derivative of prīmitīvus "primary, original"

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Time Traveler for primitive

Time Traveler

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

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Dictionary Entries Near primitive



primitive area

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Cite this Entry

“Primitive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for primitive


prim·​i·​tive | \ ˈpri-mə-tiv How to pronounce primitive (audio) \

Kids Definition of primitive

1 : of or belonging to very early times primitive cultures
2 : of or belonging to an early stage of development primitive tools


prim·​i·​tive | \ ˈprim-ət-iv How to pronounce primitive (audio) \

Medical Definition of primitive

1 : closely approximating an early ancestral type : little evolved
2 : belonging to or characteristic of an early stage of development primitive cells

Other Words from primitive

primitively adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on primitive

Nglish: Translation of primitive for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of primitive for Arabic Speakers


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