[ hahy-uh-rahr-kee, hahy-rahr- ]
See synonyms for: hierarchyhierarchies on Thesaurus.com

noun,plural hi·er·ar·chies.
  1. any system of persons or things ranked one above another.

  2. government by ecclesiastical rulers.

  1. the power or dominion of a hierarch.

  2. an organized body of ecclesiastical officials in successive ranks or orders: the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

  3. one of the three divisions of the angels, each made up of three orders, conceived as constituting a graded body.

  4. Also called celestial hierarchy . the collective body of angels.

  5. government by an elite group.

  6. Linguistics. the system of levels according to which a language is organized, as phonemic, morphemic, syntactic, or semantic.

Origin of hierarchy

First recorded in 1350–1400; Middle English jerarchie, from Middle French ierarchie, gerarchie, from Medieval Latin (h)ierarchia, from Late Greek hierarchía “stewardship of sacred rites, rule or power of the high priest,” equivalent to hier(o)- “holy, sacred” + -archía, a combining form meaning “rule”; see hier(o)-, -archy

word story For hierarchy

Hierarchy comes ultimately from Greek hierarchía “stewardship of sacred rites,” a derivative of hierárchēs “high priest, leader of sacred rites,” via Medieval Latin (h)ierarchia.
The Medieval Latin word originally meant “rank or dignity of a hierarch (high-ranking religious leader)” in a system devised in the late 5th or early 6th century by the mystical theologian and philosopher Pseudo-Dionysius. The Greek word hierarchía is formed from hierós “holy, dedicated to a god, sacred, strong, excellent, glorious” and a derivative of the verb árchein “to be first, begin, rule.”
The earliest occurrence of hierarchy in English dates from the late 14th century in the sense “one of the three divisions of the angels into higher and lower ranks.” This meaning was quickly extended to other supernatural entities, and finally, in the 16th century, to “rule or dominion in holy matters, rule or government by priests, a system of ecclesiastical rule.” The sense “a group of people, plants, animals, or things ranked in grades, orders, or classes” dates from the 17th century.

Other words from hierarchy

  • an·ti·hi·er·ar·chy, noun, plural an·ti·hi·er·ar·chies, adjective

Words Nearby hierarchy

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use hierarchy in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for hierarchy


/ (ˈhaɪəˌrɑːkɪ) /

nounplural -chies
  1. a system of persons or things arranged in a graded order

  2. a body of persons in holy orders organized into graded ranks

  1. the collective body of those so organized

  2. a series of ordered groupings within a system, such as the arrangement of plants and animals into classes, orders, families, etc

  3. linguistics maths a formal structure, usually represented by a diagram of connected nodes, with a single uppermost element: Compare ordering, heterarchy, tree (def. 6)

  4. government by an organized priesthood

Origin of hierarchy

C14: from Medieval Latin hierarchia, from Late Greek hierarkhia, from hierarkhēs high priest; see hiero-, -archy

Derived forms of hierarchy

  • hierarchical or hierarchic, adjective
  • hierarchically, adverb
  • hierarchism, noun

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012