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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.

historical usage of 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 ).


pri·ma·ri·ness, nounpost·pri·ma·ry, adjectivesub·pri·ma·ry, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022

How to use primary in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for primary

/ (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

Scientific definitions for primary

[ 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.