pri·​mo·​gen·​i·​ture ˌprī-mō-ˈje-nə-ˌchu̇r How to pronounce primogeniture (audio)
: the state of being the firstborn of the children of the same parents
: an exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the eldest son

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In many civilizations, past and present, the state of being the oldest among siblings is a key component of inheritance law. Primogeniture, which first appeared in English in the early 17th century, derives from the Late Latin prīmogenitūra, which itself comes from prīmogenitus, meaning "firstborn," a combination of the Latin prīmus ("first, earliest") and genitus ("birth"), from the past participle of gignere ("to beget"). For those who are youngest in birth order, a similar word applies—ultimogeniture—but this word is newer (first appearing in English in the late 19th century) and much less common.

Examples of primogeniture in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Absolute primogeniture — the right to rule regardless of gender — was not constitutionally adopted in Norway until 1990. Janine Henni, Peoplemag, 2 July 2024 In Season 1 of House of the Dragon, Viserys upended the Seven Kingdoms' custom of male primogeniture by naming Rhaenyra his heir after his first wife, Aemma (Sian Brooke), died while giving birth to their son, Baelon. Megan McCluskey, TIME, 7 June 2024 The Succession to the Crown Act 2013 ended male-preference primogeniture, which put male heirs above their female siblings in the line of succession. Audrey Schmidt, Peoplemag, 2 May 2024 Jacques follows his father in the line of succession to the Monegasque throne, as the principality recognizes male-preference primogeniture. Janine Henni, Peoplemag, 25 Mar. 2024 Ten years before Elisabeth was born, in 1991, Belgium introduced absolute primogeniture through a new act of succession, ending centuries of male-preference primogeniture. Janine Henni, Peoplemag, 25 Oct. 2023 One of the most important policy achievements of the era was the elimination in most states of primogeniture laws, a favorite cause of Thomas Jefferson. Danielle Allen, Foreign Affairs, 14 Dec. 2015 The places of King Harald's two children in the line of succession remain dictated by the male-preference cognatic primogeniture previously enforced, and the precedent was set only for those born after 1990. Janine Henni, Peoplemag, 13 Sep. 2023 Ten years before Princess Elisabeth was born in 1991, a new act of succession introduced absolute primogeniture in Belgium, meaning a daughter would not be overtaken in the line of succession in favor of a younger brother. Stephanie Petit, Peoplemag, 5 Sep. 2023

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

Word History


borrowed from Middle French & Late Latin; Middle French, borrowed from Late Latin prīmogenitūra, from prīmogenitus "firstborn" (from Latin prīmus "first, earliest" + -o- -o- —for expected -i- -i- — + genitus, past participle of gignere "to bring into being, beget, give birth to") + Latin -ūra -ure — more at prime entry 2, kin entry 1

Note: The employment of -o- as a linking vowel in a compound rather than normal Latin -i- is peculiar. As noted in the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, prīmogenitus is a loan-translation of Greek prōtótokos, and it is possible that the compositional -o- was taken over from the Greek word. Alternatively, the compound could be read as prīmōgenitus, with prīmō- being the Latin adverb prīmō "at first, for the first time."

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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


Dictionary Entries Near primogeniture

Cite this Entry

“Primogeniture.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jul. 2024.

Legal Definition


pri·​mo·​gen·​i·​ture ˌprī-mō-ˈje-nə-ˌchu̇r How to pronounce primogeniture (audio)
: the state of being the firstborn of the children of the same parents
: exclusive right of inheritance
specifically : a right to take all the real property of an estate belonging under English law to the eldest son or eldest male in the next degree of consanguinity if there is no son of an ancestor to the exclusion of all female and younger male descendants

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