1 of 2


pri·​or ˈprī(-ə)r How to pronounce prior (audio)
: earlier in time or order
: taking precedence (as in importance)
priorly adverb


2 of 2


plural priors
: the superior ranking next to the abbot of a monastery
: the superior of a house or group of houses of any of various religious communities
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
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
Assault with a deadly weapon: At 11:23 a.m., deputies responded to a call from school officials at Prospect High School on Prospect Road on report of a prior assault-and-battery incident. Anne Gelhaus, The Mercury News, 29 Mar. 2024 Sixty-three percent of policyholders said the cost of their insurance coverage increased from the prior year, the survey found. Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN, 29 Mar. 2024 See all Example Sentences for prior 

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

Word History



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

First Known Use


1607, in the meaning defined at sense 1


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

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

Dictionary Entries Near prior

Cite this Entry

“Prior.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
pri·​or ˈprī(-ə)r How to pronounce prior (audio)
: a monk who is head of a priory


2 of 2 adjective
: earlier in time or order : previous
better than in prior years
without prior warning
: being more important than something else : having priority
has a prior claim to our attention

Legal Definition


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

Biographical Definition


biographical name

Matthew 1664–1721 English poet

More from Merriam-Webster on prior

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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