[ prahy-mer-ee, -muh-ree ]
See synonyms for: primaryprimaries on

  1. first or highest in rank or importance; chief; principal: his primary goals in life.

  2. first in order in any series, sequence, etc.

  1. first in time; earliest; primitive.

  2. of, relating to, or characteristic of primary school: the primary grades.

  3. constituting or belonging to the first stage in any process.

  4. of the nature of the ultimate or simpler constituents of which something complex is made up: Animals have a few primary instincts.

    • original; not derived or subordinate; fundamental; basic.

    • (in scholarly studies) pertaining to or being a firsthand account, original data, etc., or based on direct knowledge, as in primary source; primary research.

  5. immediate or direct, or not involving intermediate agency: primary perceptions.

  6. Sociology. (of social values or ideals) conceived as derived from the primary group and culturally defined as being necessary to the welfare of the individual and society.

  7. Ornithology. pertaining to any of the set of flight feathers situated on the distal segment of a bird's wing.

  8. Electricity. noting or pertaining to the circuit, coil, winding, or current that induces current in secondary windings in an induction coil, transformer, or the like.

  9. Chemistry.

    • involving or obtained by replacement of one atom or group.

    • noting or containing a carbon atom united to no other or to only one other carbon atom in a molecule.

  10. Grammar.

    • (of a derivative) having a root or other unanalyzable element as the underlying form: The word "dole" is a primary derivative formed by modification of "deal," and "phonograph" is a primary derivative from "phono-" and "-graph."

    • (of Latin, Greek, Sanskrit tenses) having reference to present or future time.: Compare secondary (def. 10).

noun,plural pri·ma·ries.
  1. something that is first in order, rank, or importance.

  2. U.S. Politics.

    • Also called primary election. a preliminary election in which voters of each party nominate candidates for office, party officers, etc.: Compare closed primary, direct primary, indirect primary, open primary.

    • a meeting of the voters of a political party in an election district for nominating candidates for office, choosing delegates for a convention, etc.; caucus.

  1. Ornithology. a primary feather.

  2. Electricity. a winding in a transformer or the like that carries a current and that induces a current in secondary windings.

  3. Astronomy.

    • a body in relation to a smaller body or smaller bodies revolving around it, as a planet in relation to its satellites.

    • the brighter of the two stars comprising a double star.: Compare companion1 (def. 6).

verb (used with object),pri·ma·ried, pri·ma·ry·ing.
  1. U.S. Politics. to challenge or oppose (the incumbent) in a primary election, usually for strong ideological reasons (often used in passive constructions): The congressman was primaried by a more conservative candidate.

verb (used without object),pri·ma·ried, pri·ma·ry·ing.
  1. U.S. Politics. to run as a candidate in a primary election.

Origin of primary

First recorded in 1425–75; (adjective) late Middle English, from Latin prīmārius “of the first rank, chief.” See prime, -ary

synonym study For primary

5. See elementary.

word story For primary

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 ).

Other words for primary

Opposites for primary

Other words from primary

  • pri·ma·ri·ness, noun
  • post·pri·ma·ry, adjective
  • sub·pri·ma·ry, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use primary in a sentence

  • We find a like conception in the Aztec wind-god Tezcatlipoca, who was looked upon as the primary source of existence.

  • What remained to be discovered was the feeders of this vast basin, and which among them was indeed the primary source of the Nile.

    Some Heroes of Travel | W. H. Davenport Adams
  • Ecstasy, imagination, and the unconscious are all convertible and synonymous terms for the primary source of poetry.

    The Literature of Ecstasy | Albert Mordell
  • The interference by social arrangements with Nature, God's work, is the primary source of corruption in individuals.

  • The primary source of information on Benjamin Franklin is contained in his own writings.

    The Age of Invention | Holland Thompson

British Dictionary definitions for primary


/ (ˈpraɪmərɪ) /

  1. first in importance, degree, rank, etc

  2. first in position or time, as in a series

  1. fundamental; basic

  2. being the first stage; elementary

  3. (prenominal) of or relating to the education of children up to the age of 11

  4. (of the flight feathers of a bird's wing) growing from the manus

    • being the part of an electric circuit, such as a transformer or induction coil, in which a changing current induces a current in a neighbouring circuit: a primary coil

    • (of a current) flowing in such a circuit: Compare secondary

    • (of a product) consisting of a natural raw material; unmanufactured

    • (of production or industry) involving the extraction or winning of such products. Agriculture, fishing, forestry, hunting, and mining are primary industries: Compare secondary (def. 7), tertiary (def. 3)

  5. chem

    • (of an organic compound) having a functional group attached to a carbon atom that is attached to at least two hydrogen atoms

    • (of an amine) having only one organic group attached to the nitrogen atom; containing the group NH 2

    • (of a salt) derived from a tribasic acid by replacement of one acidic hydrogen atom with a metal atom or electropositive group

  6. linguistics

    • derived from a word that is not a derivation but the ultimate form itself. Lovable is a primary derivative of love

    • (of Latin, Greek, or Sanskrit tenses) referring to present or future time: Compare historic (def. 3)

  7. geology relating to magmas that have not experienced fractional crystallization or crystal contamination

nounplural -ries
  1. a person or thing that is first in rank, occurrence, etc

  2. (in the US) : Full name: primary election

    • a preliminary election in which the voters of a state or region choose a party's convention delegates, nominees for office, etc: See also closed primary, direct primary, open primary

    • a local meeting of voters registered with one party to nominate candidates, select convention delegates, etc

  1. any of the flight feathers growing from the manus of a bird's wing

  2. a primary coil, winding, inductance, or current in an electric circuit

  3. astronomy a celestial body around which one or more specified secondary bodies orbit: the sun is the primary of the earth

Origin of 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

Scientific definitions for primary


[ prīmĕr′ē ]

  1. Relating to a primary color.

  2. 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.

    • Relating to or having a carbon atom that is attached to only one other carbon atom in a molecule.

    • 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.

    • Arising first and spontaneously, as a disease, disorder, or tumor, and not as a result of a known medical condition or injury.

    • Relating to the first set of teeth that develops in humans.

  1. 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.