[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 precedents

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

Examples from the Web for precedents

Contemporary Examples of precedents

Historical Examples of precedents

  • There were mountains of precedents on this side or that, as you pleased.

    Blood and Iron

    John Hubert Greusel

  • He did no more than follow the precedents of his own and every surrounding nation.

  • He ventured to declare—following the precedents—that she had treated him shamefully.

    Tristram of Blent

    Anthony Hope

  • These were chiefly well-meaning folks, not much given to the study of precedents.

    We Two

    Edna Lyall

  • We've certainly upset some precedents, broken some rules, and maybe some laws.

    David Lannarck, Midget

    George S. Harney

British Dictionary definitions for precedents


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 precedents



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

precedents 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 precedents


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.