or prae·fect

  1. a person appointed to any of various positions of command, authority, or superintendence, as a chief magistrate in ancient Rome or the chief administrative official of a department of France or Italy.
  2. Roman Catholic Church.
    1. the dean of a Jesuit school or college.
    2. a cardinal in charge of a congregation in the Curia Romana.
  3. Chiefly British. a praeposter.

Origin of prefect

1300–50; Middle English < Latin praefectus overseer, director (noun use of past participle of praeficere to make prior, i.e., put in charge), equivalent to prae- pre- + -fectus (combining form of factus, past participle of facere to make, do1); see fact
Related formssub·pre·fect, nounun·der·pre·fect, noun
Can be confusedperfect prefect (see usage note at perfect) Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for prefect

Contemporary Examples of prefect

  • Rich and smooth with a subtly bitter flavor, Guinness is a prefect drinking beer—and baking beer.

    The Daily Beast logo
    What to Eat: St. Patrick's Day

    March 16, 2010

Historical Examples of prefect

  • I stopped a minute before entering the Prefect's suite of rooms.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

  • "You shall be supplied above and beyond all your wishes," said the Prefect.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

  • With these words I rang for my footman to show the Prefect of Police to the door.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

  • The Prefect of the Department, the Bishop, the clergy, objected to her story.

  • The detachment on duty there accompanied the prefect and the colonel as a guard of honour.

British Dictionary definitions for prefect


  1. (in France, Italy, etc) the chief administrative officer in a department
  2. (in France, etc) the head of a police force
  3. British a schoolchild appointed to a position of limited power over his fellows
  4. (in ancient Rome) any of several magistrates or military commanders
  5. Also called: prefect apostolic RC Church an official having jurisdiction over a missionary district that has no ordinary
  6. RC Church one of two senior masters in a Jesuit school or college (the prefect of studies and the prefect of discipline or first prefect)
  7. RC Church a cardinal in charge of a congregation of the Curia
Also (for senses 4–7): praefect
Derived Formsprefectorial (ˌpriːfɛkˈtɔːrɪəl), adjective

Word Origin for prefect

C14: from Latin praefectus one put in charge, from praeficere to place in authority over, from prae before + facere to do, make
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 prefect

mid-14c., "civil or military official," from Old French prefect (12c., Modern French préfet) and directly from Latin praefectus "public overseer, superintendent, director," noun use of past participle of praeficere "to put in front, to set over, put in authority," from prae "in front, before" (see pre-) + root of facere (past participle factus) "to perform" (see factitious). Spelling restored from Middle English prefet. Meaning "administrative head of the Paris police" is from 1800; meaning "senior pupil designated to keep order in an English school" is from 1864. Related: Prefectorial.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper