View synonyms for precedent


[ noun pres-i-duhnt; adjective pri-seed-nt, pres-i-duhnt ]


  1. Law. a legal decision or form of proceeding serving as an authoritative rule or pattern in future similar or analogous cases.
  2. any act, decision, or case that serves as a guide or justification for subsequent situations.

    Synonyms: standard, pattern, model, example


  1. going or coming before; preceding; anterior.



  1. law a judicial decision that serves as an authority for deciding a later case
  2. an example or instance used to justify later similar occurrences


  1. preceding


  1. A previous ruling by a court that influences subsequent decisions in cases with similar issues.

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Other Words From

  • prece·dent·less adjective
  • non·prece·dent noun
  • nonpre·cedent adjective
  • quasi-pre·cedent adjective

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Word History and Origins

Origin of precedent1

First recorded in 1350–1400; Middle English (adjective), from Middle French, from Latin praecēdent- (stem of praecēdēns ), present participle of praecēdere “to go in front of, go ahead of”; the noun is from the adjective; precede, -ent

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Idioms and Phrases

see set a precedent .

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Example Sentences

The effort is meant to set a legal precedent for mining on the lunar surface that would allow NASA to one day collect ice, helium or other materials useful to colonies on the moon and, eventually, Mars.

From Fortune

In the judicial branch, legal precedent still protects officers from the consequences of deadly force with qualified immunity.

From Vox

Some of the other ones, it’s just interesting, the nuance that the court has taken in terms of judicial precedent that they follow.

From Ozy

There is precedent for previous records being dismissed once disproven.

“While similar to AB 1460, the new CSU policy avoids setting a precedent for future curriculum decisions to be determined by the legislature,” he wrote in an email.

Indeed, the Japanese-owned corporation has set a horrible precedent.

Roberts has shown a tendency in other political law cases to make broad pronouncements, upsetting precedent.

“A scary precedent has been set,” she told the Observer back in May.

Furthermore, being designated as a victim of a separate genocide and not a Holocaust victim is precedent-setting.

Is there any recent precedent for a reluctant but strong warrior in Republican politics?

The council, however, resolved not to indulge the king, for fear of a dangerous precedent.

The Pope replied that reconciliation with the Church was an indispensable condition precedent.

Prothero's case defied all rule and precedent, and Brodrick was not prepared with a judgment of his own.

So dangerous a precedent being once admitted, it became necessary to resort to still other expedients.

An incident of this great experiment is worth recording, as possibly affording a hint and a precedent.


Related Words

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More About Precedent

What does precedent mean?

A precedent is an act or decision that serves as a guide for future situations with similar circumstances.

For example, the first U.S. president, George Washington, set a precedent when he limited himself to only two terms as president, and presidents ever since (with the exception of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) have followed that precedent—meaning they have done the same thing.

Precedent is especially used in a legal context, in which it refers to a past court decision or judicial ruling that can be used as a guideline for decisions in similar cases. In this context, precedent often refers collectively to all previous decisions relevant to the case. This sense of the word is used without the articles a or the, as in This ruling was based on precedent. 

Typically, lower courts (such as a state trial court or a U.S. district court) will look at decisions made by higher courts (such as a state supreme court or a U.S. court of appeals) to use as judicial precedent. Basing judicial decisions on precedent is intended to make them more objective or impartial due to not being based on a single personal opinion. Still, decisions are not required to be made based on precedent. Judges may break precedent or go against precedent in certain cases. These phrases can also be used outside of a legal context.

In general, when something has never been done or has never happened before, it can be described as without precedent. The word unprecedented means the same thing.

Much less commonly, precedent can be used as an adjective that means the same thing as preceding (which is much more commonly used).

Example: If we make this a holiday, we’ll set a precedent that our employees will expect us to follow every year.

Where does precedent come from?

The first records of the word precedent come from the 1300s. It ultimately comes from the Latin praecēdere, meaning “to go in front of” or “to go ahead of.” The noun sense of precedent is based on its earlier adjective use.

The word precedent starts with the word precede, meaning “to go before,” and precedents always involve things that have come before.

In law, precedent is usually created when several previous cases have resulted in the same decision—though a single decision can set a precedent.

The plural form precedents should not be confused with the noun precedence, which means the right to go before others.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to precedent?

  • precedentless (adjective)
  • nonprecedent (noun, adjective)
  • quasiprecedent (adjective)

What are some synonyms for precedent?

What are some words that share a root or word element with precedent

What are some words that often get used in discussing precedent?

How is precedent used in real life?

Precedent is especially used in the context of court rulings. But it’s also commonly used in a general way.



Try using precedent!

Is precedent used correctly in the following sentence?

The judge broke with precedent by ruling in a way that contradicted previous decisions.

Definitions and idiom definitions from Unabridged, based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

Idioms from The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.