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

Definition of prior

 (Entry 1 of 3)

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


plural priors

Definition of prior (Entry 2 of 3)

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


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

Definition of Prior (Entry 3 of 3)

Matthew 1664–1721 English poet

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective This week, Hertz declared a new bid by Knightshead Capital Management and Certares Management was superior to a prior offer from a group led by Centerbridge Partners, Warburg Pincus and Dundon Capital Partners. Kevin Dowd, Forbes, "The Biggest Firms In Private Equity Are Clubbing Up Once Again," 9 May 2021 But since there was such little influenza circulating this year, the number of people without any prior immunity could double. Lauren Dunn, NBC News, "After year with virtually no flu, scientists worry the next season could be a bad one," 9 May 2021 This prior expert answer is possibly helpful to you. oregonlive, "Does this dogwood have a fungal disease? Ask an expert," 8 May 2021 Tran’s case is largely built on personal testimony and documents that emerged in prior legal challenges. Washington Post, "French court to decide landmark case against the U.S. makers of Agent Orange," 8 May 2021 Ercot had received prior warnings that shutting off some industrial users could be a problem. Russell Gold, WSJ, "As Texas Went Dark, the State Paid Natural-Gas Companies to Go Offline," 7 May 2021 These areas saw more of a mix of line drives and popups than the prior sections. Nathan Ruiz,, "Fans are back at Camden Yards. Where should they sit if they want a foul ball?," 7 May 2021 Material from Bloomberg and prior Globe stories was used in this report., "Mass. will soon have over 4 million residents who’ve gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. So what does that mean?," 7 May 2021 The special legislation expressed the intent of Congress at the time, and if a new law conflicted with a prior one, the new one applied, according to a spokesperson. Rob Perez, ProPublica, "The U.S. Owes Hawaiians Millions of Dollars Worth of Land. Congress Helped Make Sure the Debt Wasn’t Paid.," 7 May 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun 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, "A Pair of Crocs to Match the Dress," 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, "KKR’s Third-Quarter Profit Tops $1 Billion," 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, "Step 1: Move to Peru. Step 2: Join the Marxist Struggle.," 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, "Did Kevin Epps kill in self-defense?," 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, "Judge makes statement in corruption case," 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, "Court denies sentence appeal from Southern Indiana man convicted of molesting 20 girls," 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, "South Korea born, East L.A. bred: A Seoul taqueria for a homesick chef," 16 Oct. 2019 In other words, being hallucination-prone went along with perceptual priors having a stronger effect on perception. Anil K. Seth, Scientific American, "The Neuroscience of Reality," 27 Aug. 2019

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.

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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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Time Traveler for prior

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for prior

Last Updated

11 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Prior.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for prior



English Language Learners Definition of prior

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: existing earlier in time
formal : more important than something else because it came first



English Language Learners Definition of prior (Entry 2 of 2)

: a monk who is the head of a religious house or order
: a priest whose rank is just below that of an abbot
US, informal : a previous time of being arrested for or found guilty of a crime


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

More from Merriam-Webster on prior

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for prior

Nglish: Translation of prior for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of prior for Arabic Speakers

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