Origin of primary

1425–75; late Middle English (adj.) < Latin prīmārius of the first rank. See prime, -ary

Related forms

pri·ma·ri·ness, nounpost·pri·ma·ry, adjectivesub·pri·ma·ry, adjective

Synonym study

5. See elementary.

Word story

The English adjective primary is a direct borrowing from the Latin adjective prīmārius “very important, leading, chief, excellent, first-rate.” Prīmārius is a pretty obvious derivation of prīmus “leading, foremost, furthest out, extreme, earliest, first” and the adjective and noun suffix -ārius, the ultimate source of the English suffix -ary. Prīmus is formed from the Proto-Indo-European root per, which has many modifications and extensions, and whose fundamental meaning “forward, in front, through” is the base of many adverbs, prefixes, and prepositions. Variants of the root per appear in the Latin prefix, adverb, and preposition prae-, prae “in front, ahead” (adopted as pre- in English) and prō-, prō, implying forward motion, making an opening, priority in time or importance (source of English pro- ). Variants of per appear in Greek prōtos “first” (as in English protein and proton ) and in Germanic (Old English) forma, formest, forth, furthra, fyrst (English former, foremost, forth, further, first ).
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for primaries

British Dictionary definitions for primaries


/ (ˈpraɪmərɪ) /


noun plural -ries

Word Origin for primary

C15: from Latin prīmārius of the first rank, principal, from prīmus first
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

Medicine definitions for primaries


[ prīmĕr′ē, -mə-rē ]


Being first or highest in importance; principal.
Occurring first in time or sequence; earliest.
Preliminary to a later stage of development; primordial; embryonic.
Immediate; direct.
Of, relating to, or being a sequence of amino acids in a protein.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Science definitions for primaries


[ prīmĕr′ē ]

Relating to a primary color.
Relating to plant tissues or growth derived from the apical meristem in the tips of roots and shoots, whose cells divide and elongate to cause the plant to grow lengthwise.
  1. Relating to or having a carbon atom that is attached to only one other carbon atom in a molecule.
  2. Relating to an organic molecule, such as an alcohol, in which the functional group is attached to a primary carbon. A primary alcohol, for example, has the hydroxyl (OH) group attached to the last carbon in a chain.
  1. Arising first and spontaneously, as a disease, disorder, or tumor, and not as a result of a known medical condition or injury.
  2. Relating to the first set of teeth that develops in humans.
Relating to the initial medical care given by a healthcare provider to a patient, especially in a setting of ambulatory, continuous care, and sometimes followed by referral to other medical providers. Compare secondary tertiary.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Culture definitions for primaries


State elections of delegates to the nominating convention that chooses a major party's presidential candidate. In some states, delegates are elected by popular vote; in other states, party caucuses or miniconventions choose delegates.


Primaries occur at different times during the presidential election year, a situation that drags out the process by which parties nominate candidates but allows wide public exposure to candidates and 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.