pri·​or | \ ˈprī(-ə)r How to pronounce prior (audio) \

Definition of prior

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : earlier in time or order
2 : taking precedence (as in importance)


plural priors

Definition of prior (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : the superior ranking next to the abbot of a monastery
b : the superior of a house or group of houses of any of various religious communities
2 US law enforcement, informal : a previous instance of arrest or conviction for a crime He had been told that burglary, like auto theft, rarely drew a state prison term, unless you had lots of priors.— Joseph Wambaugh

Other Words from prior


priorly adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for prior


preceding, antecedent, foregoing, previous, prior, former, anterior mean being before. preceding usually implies being immediately before in time or in place. the preceding sentence antecedent applies to order in time and may suggest a causal relation. conditions antecedent to the revolution foregoing applies chiefly to statements. the foregoing remarks previous and prior imply existing or occurring earlier, but prior often adds an implication of greater importance. a child from a previous marriage a prior obligation former implies always a definite comparison or contrast with something that is latter. the former name of the company anterior applies to position before or ahead of usually in space, sometimes in time or order. the anterior lobe of the brain

Examples of prior in a Sentence

Adjective Do you have a prior history of back problems? The job requires prior experience in advertising. The defendant had a prior record of convictions. I'm sorry, but we have a prior commitment and can't come tonight. We have a prior claim to the estate.
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Mirman also stressed however, that the film can be watched completely blind, without any prior knowledge of the series. Wilson Chapman, Variety, 18 May 2022 In 42 of the fires, reporters found, officials had prior knowledge of fire safety issues that remained unresolved at the time the flames broke out. Cecilia Reyes, Chicago Tribune, 9 May 2022 The Israeli Defense Forces said Palestinians living in those territories would only be allowed to enter Israel with prior permission on a humanitarian basis, under special circumstances or for medical reasons. Amir Tal, Abeer Salman, Mike Schwartz, CNN, 6 May 2022 But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby emphasized in a subsequent statement that the United States did not have prior knowledge of the strike on the vessel, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Los Angeles Times, 6 May 2022 The Ukrainians carried out the strike without the prior knowledge of the United States. New York Times, 5 May 2022 Hooks was wearing an ankle monitor as part of his probation conditions for a prior incident in which he was accused of third-degree assault with a weapon, resisting arrest, evidence tampering and other charges. Zaz Hollander, Anchorage Daily News, 3 May 2022 What Eggers seems to know is that the tales of Grammaticus and others were tales spun in a Christian era, heavily reliant upon prior stories and myths but nonetheless distanced, by religion, from their more pagan roots. K. Austin Collins, Rolling Stone, 21 Apr. 2022 Rondo, who has some prior knowledge of the Hawks stemming from 27 games with them during 2020-21 season, understands the challenge ahead. Chris Fedor, cleveland, 15 Apr. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun His car narrowly missed an unmarked law enforcement vehicle, which zips past less than a second prior. Tami Abdollah, USA TODAY, 19 May 2021 Depending on your past familiarity with white tube socks (your prior), your visual system may correctly conclude that the socks are truly white but illuminated by green lighting. Stephen L. Macknik, Scientific American, 12 Dec. 2019 The fair value of KKR’s private-equity portfolio climbed by roughly 14% from the prior... Miriam Gottfried And Allison Prang, WSJ, 30 Oct. 2020 Unfortunately, Altschul fails to convincingly imagine how a young, middle-class American Jewish woman, whatever her priors, could make the leap to armed struggle. Alex Cuadros, New York Times, 10 Mar. 2020 His priors included counts of lewd acts upon a child, possession for sale of crack, domestic violence and vehicle theft. Evan Sernoffsky, San Francisco Chronicle, 21 Feb. 2020 Curtis Thornton was a first-time offender with no priors, and nobody was hurt in the arsons, but Jones sentenced him to 100 years in prison. John Archibald |, al, 30 Oct. 2019 In June, Begin's attorney appealed the sentence, arguing that 40 to 60 years in prison would be more appropriate for a man of his age with no priors and that his 120-year sentence was inappropriate. Sarah Ladd, The Courier-Journal, 30 Oct. 2019 Facing up to life in prison with his priors, Morales agreed to plead guilty, serve a three-year sentence and, upon completion, be deported to his birth country: South Korea. Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times, 16 Oct. 2019 See More

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

First Known Use of prior


1607, in the meaning defined at sense 1


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for prior


Latin, former, superior; akin to Latin priscus ancient, prae before — more at for


Middle English, from Old English & Anglo-French; both from Medieval Latin, from Late Latin, administrator, from Latin, former, superior

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The first known use of prior was before the 12th century

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Last Updated

23 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Prior.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for prior


pri·​or | \ ˈprī-ər How to pronounce prior (audio) \

Kids Definition of prior

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a monk who is head of a religious house



Kids Definition of prior (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : being or happening before something else a prior date prior experience
2 : being more important than something else a prior claim
prior to
: before entry 2 sense 2 The project must be finished prior to July.


pri·​or | \ ˈprī-ər \

Legal Definition of prior

1 : earlier in time or order
2 : taking precedence (as in importance) a prior lien

Prior biographical name

\ ˈprī(-ə)r How to pronounce Prior (audio) \

Definition of Prior

Matthew 1664–1721 English poet

More from Merriam-Webster on prior

Nglish: Translation of prior for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of prior for Arabic Speakers


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