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.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web The act ended the system of male primogeniture for those born after Oct. 28, 2011, meaning that birth order, regardless of gender, now determines the order of succession. Jacqueline Weiss, Peoplemag, 3 May 2023 Anne falls behind her younger brothers in the order of succession because male primogeniture served as protocol for the royal family from the Act of Settlement of 1701 up until 2013. The Editors, Town & Country, 9 Sep. 2022 While Princess Kate was pregnant with Prince George nearly a decade ago, British Parliament passed the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, ensuring that birth order — not male-preference primogeniture — would determine the line of succession for all royals born after October 28, 2011. Janine Henni, Peoplemag, 28 Nov. 2022 But when his father-in-law died in 2006, the older man followed an ancient tradition known as primogeniture and left his entire fortune of some 12 million pounds (about $15.7 million) to his closest male heir — his only son, Ned — ignoring five daughters and his wife. Alan Cowell, New York Times, 5 Oct. 2020 Owing to the archaic laws of primogeniture, Anne, who is now 72, has tumbled to 16th in line to the throne. Simon Usborne, Town & Country, 18 Jan. 2023 According to English laws of primogeniture, an earldom can pass only to a son or other male descendant. Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 6 Feb. 2023 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, 3 Jan. 2023 Although Princess Victoria has a younger brother, Prince Carl Philip, her place as heir formally went into effect in 1980 with the parliamentary change to the Act of Succession that introduced absolute primogeniture. Stephanie Petit, Peoplemag, 4 Jan. 2023 See More

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 1 Jun. 2023.

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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