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


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

adjective pre·ce·dent [pri-seed-nt, pres-i-duh nt] /prɪˈsid nt, ˈprɛs ɪ dənt/

going or coming before; preceding; anterior.

Origin of precedent

1350–1400; (adj.) Middle English < Latin praecēdent- (stem of praecēdēns) present participle of praecēdere to go before, precede (see -ent); (noun) late Middle English, derivative of the adj.
Related formsprec·e·dent·less, adjectivenon·prec·e·dent, nounnon·pre·ced·ent, adjectivequa·si-pre·ced·ent, adjective
Can be confusedprecedence precedents presidents Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for precedent

criterion, antecedent, authority, instance, exemplar, model, paradigm

Examples from the Web for precedent

Contemporary Examples of precedent

Historical Examples of precedent

  • It had the authority of precedent in uncounted graduate classes.

  • When you start thinking about it, I suppose we set some kind of precedent here.

    Arm of the Law

    Harry Harrison

  • By all the rules of precedent and South Harniss business the other should have been at the store.


    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • But let us bear in mind that Alexander did not lack a precedent for this particular act.

  • No doubt I should present a precedent in undertaking to look after his in like circumstances.

British Dictionary definitions for precedent


noun (ˈprɛsɪdənt)

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

adjective (prɪˈsiːdənt, ˈprɛsɪdənt)

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 precedent

early 15c., "case which may be taken as a rule in similar cases," from Middle French precedent, noun use of an adjective, from Latin praecedentum (nominative praecedens), present participle of praecedere "go before" (see precede). Meaning "thing or person that goes before another" is attested from mid-15c. As an adjective in English from c.1400. As a verb meaning "to furnish with a precedent" from 1610s, now only in past participle precedented.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

precedent in Culture



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

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with precedent


see set a precedent.

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