hi·​er·​ar·​chy | \ ˈhī-(ə-)ˌrär-kē also ˈhi(-ə)r-ˌär- How to pronounce hierarchy (audio) \
plural hierarchies

Essential Meaning of hierarchy

1 : a group that controls an organization and is divided into different levels The church hierarchy faced resistance to some of their/its decisions.
2 : a system in which people or things are placed in a series of levels with different importance or status He was at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy. a rigid hierarchy of social classes

Full Definition of hierarchy

1 : a division of angels
2a : a ruling body of clergy organized into orders or ranks each subordinate to the one above it especially : the bishops of a province or nation
b : church government by a hierarchy
3 : a body of persons in authority
4 : the classification of a group of people according to ability or to economic, social, or professional standing also : the group so classified
5 : a graded or ranked series a hierarchy of values

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What did hierarchy originally mean?

The earliest meaning of hierarchy in English has to do with the ranks of different types of angels in the celestial order. The idea of categorizing groups according to rank readily transferred to the organization of priestly or other governmental rule. The word hierarchy is, in fact, related to a number of governmental words in English, such as monarchy, anarchy, and oligarchy, although it itself is now very rarely used in relation to government.

The word comes from the Greek hierarchēs, which was formed by combining the words hieros, meaning “supernatural, holy,” and archos, meaning. “ruler.” Hierarchy has continued to spread its meaning beyond matters ecclesiastical and governmental, and today is commonly found used in reference to any one of a number of different forms of graded classification.

Examples of hierarchy in a Sentence

… he wrote a verse whose metaphors were read somewhere in the Baathist hierarchy as incitement to Kurdish nationalism. — Geraldine Brooks, Los Angeles Times, 30 Dec. 2001 Whereas the monkeys normally hew to strict hierarchies when it comes to who gets the best food and who grooms whom, there are no obvious top or rotten bananas in the sharing of millipede secretions. — Natalie Angier, New York Times, 5 Dec. 2000 The idea that social order has to come from a centralized, rational, bureaucratic hierarchy was very much associated with the industrial age. — Francis Fukuyama, Atlantic, May 1999 The church hierarchy faced resistance to some of their decisions. He was at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy. a rigid hierarchy of social classes
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Recent Examples on the Web Communication in traditional organizational structures goes up and down through team leaders, and up and down the team leaders in the hierarchy of teams. Forbes, 6 Oct. 2021 By my calculations, Tennessee is currently just seventh in the hierarchy of SEC programs (behind Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M) and will move to ninth when the Sooners and the Longhorns join the league. Mike Bianchi, orlandosentinel.com, 26 Sep. 2021 Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union and the left-leaning Social Democratic Party dominate German politics, but the Green Party is gaining ground, and a far-right party jockeys for fourth place in the hierarchy. Aj Willingham, CNN, 24 Sep. 2021 There have always been questions about where Prescott ranks in the hierarchy of NFL quarterbacks. Dallas News, 10 Sep. 2021 Week 2 of high school football in Utah caused some drastic movement in the hierarchy across the state. Alex Vejar, The Salt Lake Tribune, 23 Aug. 2021 In the hierarchy of the ship’s crew, the mail clerks were somewhere in the middle. Susan Seubert, Smithsonian Magazine, 19 Aug. 2021 That leads to more stratification, more consumer micro-identities, and more status anxiety about one’s place in the hierarchy. Amanda Mull, The Atlantic, 3 Aug. 2021 But in the hierarchy of which loss would have the most on-field damage, Singletary undoubtedly sits at the top. Stephen Means, cleveland, 2 Aug. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hierarchy.' 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 hierarchy

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for hierarchy

Middle English ierarchie rank or order of holy beings, from Anglo-French jerarchie, from Medieval Latin hierarchia, from Late Greek, from Greek hierarchēs

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Time Traveler for hierarchy

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The first known use of hierarchy was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

15 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Hierarchy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hierarchy. Accessed 24 Oct. 2021.

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