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

Essential Meaning of prior

1 : existing earlier in time : previous prior approval in prior years See More ExamplesDo 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. The contract was canceled without prior notice. [=the contract was canceled right away]Hide
2 formal : more important than something else because it came first We have a prior claim to the estate.

Full 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 The bill would create a process for people to expunge prior marijuana convictions. cleveland, 12 Oct. 2021 Eight people, two of whom were homeless and six of whom had no prior convictions, were arrested for taking some of the items and charged with burglary, an offense that carries a prison term of up to twelve years. Rachel Poser, The New Yorker, 11 Oct. 2021 Bennett has prior felony convictions in 2019 for identity theft and in 2011 and 2012 for two separate cases of unlawful use of a motor vehicle. oregonlive, 9 Oct. 2021 Donovan, who refused to speak with deputies after being pulled over Friday, according to Judd, has prior felony convictions for burglary and aggravated burglary. Audrey Conklin, Fox News, 9 Oct. 2021 Most of my prior convictions came from being homeless. Beth Schwartzapfel, Curbed, 5 Oct. 2021 But the first-of-its-kind data analysis of case dispositions throughout Connecticut courthouses also found that defendants with prior convictions had almost identical rates of conviction, regardless of race. Zach Murdock,, 3 Oct. 2021 In Arizona, Proposition 207 legalized the use and possession of cannabis, but hundreds of thousands of those eligible to remove prior convictions haven't filed a petition for expungement yet. Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY, 30 Sep. 2021 In arguing for the death penalty, Summers pointed to Gomez’s prior convictions, including an incident in 1983 outside what was then Jack Murphy Stadium in Mission Valley. Teri Figueroa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 28 Sep. 2021 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

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

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

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Last Updated

14 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Prior.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Oct. 2021.

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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

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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