WATCH NOW: What Is The Origin Of The Word "Major"?

WATCH NOW: What Is The Origin Of The Word "Major"?

Major, similar to its latin derivative magnus, means “great in size, extent, or importance.”




verb (used without object)

to follow a major course of study: He is majoring in physics.

Origin of major

1350–1400; < Latin, comparative of magnus large (cf. majesty); replacing Middle English majour < Anglo-French < Latin, as above

Synonym study

8. See capital1.




Clarence,born 1936, U.S. novelist and poet.
John,born 1943, British political leader: prime minister 1990–97. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for major

Contemporary Examples of major

Historical Examples of major

  • The major part of the plunder and the carts were still where they had been drawn up.

    Mr. Midshipman Easy

    Captain Frederick Marryat

  • The Major hardly ever visited the henhouse without finding a lump somewhere.

    The Tale of Major Monkey

    Arthur Scott Bailey

  • "Yes, good crop that—'nough to stuff a mattress with; looks better to-day than when it's full of alkali dust," replied the Major.

  • Von Herbert wrote an order to the Major of the Pandours for a detachment to take the duty of the imperial apartments.

  • Seeing his Pawnees were some distance in the rear, the whole party turned on Major North.

British Dictionary definitions for major



military an officer immediately junior to a lieutenant colonel
a person who is superior in a group or class
a large or important companythe oil majors
(often preceded by the) music a major key, chord, mode, or scale
US, Canadian, Australian and NZ
  1. the principal field of study of a student at a university, etchis major is sociology
  2. a student who is studying a particular subject as his principal fielda sociology major
a person who has reached the age of legal majority
logic a major term or premise
a principal or important record company, film company, etc
the majors (plural) US and Canadian the major leagues


larger in extent, number, etcthe major part
of greater importance or priority
very serious or significanta major disaster
main, chief, or principal
of, involving, or making up a majority
  1. (of a scale or mode) having notes separated by the interval of a whole tone, except for the third and fourth degrees, and seventh and eighth degrees, which are separated by a semitone
  2. relating to or employing notes from the major scalea major key
  3. (postpositive)denoting a specified key or scale as being majorC major
  4. denoting a chord or triad having a major third above the root
  5. (in jazz) denoting a major chord with a major seventh added above the root
logic constituting the major term or major premise of a syllogism
mainly US, Canadian, Australian and NZ of or relating to a student's principal field of study at a university, etc
British the elder: used after a schoolboy's surname if he has one or more younger brothers in the same schoolPrice major
of full legal age
(postpositive) bell-ringing of, relating to, or denoting a method rung on eight bells


(intr usually foll by in) US, Canadian, Australian and NZ to do one's principal study (in a particular subject)to major in English literature
(intr usually foll by on) to take or deal with as the main area of interestthe book majors on the peasant dishes
Derived Formsmajorship, noun

Word Origin for major

C15 (adj): from Latin, comparative of magnus great; C17 (n, in military sense): from French, short for sergeant major



Sir John. born 1943, British Conservative politician: Chancellor of the Exchequer (1989–90); prime minister (1990–97)
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

Word Origin and History for major

c.1300, from Latin maior (earlier *magjos), irregular comparative of magnus "large, great" (see magnate). Used in music (of modes, scales, or chords) since 1690s, on notion of an interval a half-tone greater than the minor.


military rank, 1640s, from French major, short for sergent-major, originally a higher rank than at present, from Medieval Latin major "chief officer, magnate, superior person," from Latin maior "an elder, adult," noun use of the adjective (see major (adj.)). The musical sense attested by 1797.


"focus (one's) studies," 1910, American English, from major (n.) in sense of "subject of specialization" (1890). Related: Majored; majoring. Earlier as a verb, in Scottish, "to prance about, or walk backwards and forwards with a military air and step" [Jamieson, 1825].

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper