Origin of precedent
OTHER WORDS FROM precedentprec·e·dent·less, adjectivenon·prec·e·dent, nounnon·pre·ced·ent, adjectivequa·si-pre·ced·ent, adjective
Words nearby 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.
Alabama passed a virtually identical law that the courts blocked and now is on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. An appeals court affirmed a lower court's decision to block the Alabama law — based on precedent — but practically begged the Supreme Court to review it. https://t.co/kB4NlY2m3s
— Brendan Kirby (@BrendanKKirby) April 26, 2019
The crown is asking for 12-15 months jail time for Michael Theriault in the assault of Dafonte Miller. Defence lawyer Michael Lacy calls that "completely divorced from legal precedent"
— Lorenda Reddekopp (@CBCLorenda) September 25, 2020
the iron man films set the precedent for marvel movies. without them I guarantee there wouldn't be as much success or hype over mcu
— 𝘳 (@mingivocals) August 18, 2016
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.
How to use precedent in a sentence
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.NASA wants to buy moon rocks from anyone who can fund their own space trip|Verne Kopytoff|September 10, 2020|Fortune
In the judicial branch, legal precedent still protects officers from the consequences of deadly force with qualified immunity.Kenosha’s looting is a symptom of a decrepit democracy|Aaron Ross Coleman|September 4, 2020|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.Full Transcript: Sean Spicer on ‘The Carlos Watson Show’|Daniel Malloy|August 26, 2020|Ozy
There is precedent for previous records being dismissed once disproven.Death Valley hits 130° F, the hottest recorded temperature on Earth since 1931|Carolyn Gramling|August 17, 2020|Science News
“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.Sacramento Report: Ethnic Studies Dispute Pits CSU Against Lawmakers|Sara Libby and Maya Srikrishnan|July 24, 2020|Voice of San Diego
Indeed, the Japanese-owned corporation has set a horrible precedent.Kim Jong Un, Avert Your Eyes: Sony’s ‘The Interview’ Gets the Porn Parody Treatment|Aurora Snow|December 20, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Roberts has shown a tendency in other political law cases to make broad pronouncements, upsetting precedent.The Supreme Court Is Weighing Corporate Power Yet Again|Zephyr Teachout|October 17, 2014|DAILY BEAST
“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 Secret to Rand Paul’s Foreign Policy: His Father|W. James Antle III|September 12, 2014|DAILY BEAST
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.King Robert the Bruce|A. F. Murison
Prothero's case defied all rule and precedent, and Brodrick was not prepared with a judgment of his own.The Creators|May Sinclair
So dangerous a precedent being once admitted, it became necessary to resort to still other expedients.A Cursory History of Swearing|Julian Sharman
An incident of this great experiment is worth recording, as possibly affording a hint and a precedent.English Poor Law Policy|Sidney Webb
British Dictionary definitions for precedent
Cultural definitions for precedent
A previous ruling by a court that influences subsequent decisions in cases with similar issues.
Other Idioms and Phrases with precedent
see set a precedent.