pri·​mo·​gen·​i·​ture | \ ˌprī-mō-ˈje-nə-ˌchu̇r How to pronounce primogeniture (audio) , -chər, -ˌtyu̇r, -ˌtu̇r \

Definition of primogeniture

1 : the state of being the firstborn of the children of the same parents
2 : an exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the eldest son

Keep scrolling for more

Did You Know?

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 Such were Britain’s archaic rules of primogeniture. Moira Hodgson, WSJ, "‘House of Trelawney’ Review: The Weight of the Estate," 1 Jan. 2021 The reasons behind male primogeniture were, for centuries, obvious to everyone. Helen Lewis, The Atlantic, "Earldoms for Girldom," 14 Nov. 2020 Thanks to a change to the ancient rule of royal primogeniture, which was scrapped in 2011, the Cambridges’ firstborn was set to become third in line to the throne regardless of his or her gender. Omid Scobie, Harper's BAZAAR, "The Biggest Royal Moments of the Past Decade," 1 Jan. 2020 And there’s something about the idea of primogeniture — the eldest brother getting the estate, and everyone else has to fall in line — that didn’t feel right in the Jazz Age. San Diego Union-Tribune, "‘As You Like It’ opens Globe’s Shakespeare Festival with its story of love and friendship," 16 June 2019 The United Kingdom got rid of their primogeniture law in 2011, declaring that William and Kate Middleton’s firstborn child, boy or girl, would be the next ruler of England. Elise Taylor, Vogue, "Another Japanese Princess Has Chosen Love Over Her Royal Title," 26 June 2018 When Charles Martel died in 1295, his young son Carobert should have been next in line according to the law of primogeniture. Anne Thériault, Longreads, "Queens of Infamy: Joanna of Naples," 3 July 2018 But during his reign, Sweden’s law of absolute primogeniture was passed. Madeleine Luckel, Vogue, "Should the Swedish Royal Family Be Your New Obsession? An Introduction," 31 May 2018 For hundreds of years, the laws of succession to the British throne have followed male-preference primogeniture –placing all brothers ahead of sisters in line for the crown. Kate Keller, Smithsonian, "Why Princess Charlotte Just Made Royal History," 24 Apr. 2018

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

See More

First Known Use of primogeniture

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for primogeniture

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."

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about primogeniture

Time Traveler for primogeniture

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about primogeniture

Statistics for primogeniture

Last Updated

8 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Primogeniture.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jan. 2021.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for primogeniture


pri·​mo·​gen·​i·​ture | \ ˌprī-mō-ˈje-nə-ˌchu̇r How to pronounce primogeniture (audio) \

Legal Definition of primogeniture

1 : the state of being the firstborn of the children of the same parents
2 : 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

More from Merriam-Webster on primogeniture Encyclopedia article about primogeniture

Comments on primogeniture

What made you want to look up primogeniture? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Words of Snow and Ice Quiz

  • image1037863653
  • Which of the following refers to thin, bending ice, or to the act of running over such ice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!