[prim-er or, esp. British, prahy-mer]


an elementary book for teaching children to read.
any book of elementary principles: a primer of phonetics.

Origin of primer

1350–1400; Middle English < Medieval Latin prīmārium, noun use of neuter of prīmārius primary




a person or thing that primes.
a cap, cylinder, etc., containing a compound that may be exploded by percussion or other means, used for firing a charge of powder.
a first coat or layer of paint, size, etc., given to any surface as a base, sealer, or the like.

Origin of primer

1490–1500; prime (v.) + -er1




of the first importance; demanding the fullest consideration: a prime requisite.
of the greatest relevance or significance: a prime example.
of the highest eminence or rank: the prime authority on Chaucer.
of the greatest commercial value: prime building lots.
first-rate: This ale is prime!
(of meat, especially of beef) noting or pertaining to the first grade or best quality: prime ribs of beef.
first in order of time, existence, or development; earliest; primitive.
basic; fundamental: the prime axioms of his philosophy.
Mathematics. (of any two or more numbers) having no common divisor except unity: The number 2 is prime to 9.


the most flourishing stage or state.
the time of early manhood or womanhood: the prime of youth.
the period or state of greatest perfection or vigor of human life: a man in his prime.
the choicest or best part of anything.
(especially in the grading of U.S. beef) a grade, classification, or designation indicating the highest or most desirable quality.
the beginning or earliest stage of any period.
the spring of the year.
the first hour or period of the day, after sunrise.
Banking. prime rate.
Ecclesiastical. the second of the seven canonical hours or the service for it, originally fixed for the first hour of the day.
  1. prime number.
  2. one of the equal parts into which a unit is primarily divided.
  3. the mark (′) indicating such a division: a, a′.
Fencing. the first of eight defensive positions.
  1. unison(def 2).
  2. (in a scale) the tonic or keynote.
Linguistics. any basic, indivisible unit used in linguistic analysis.
Metallurgy. a piece of tin plate free from visible defects.

verb (used with object), primed, prim·ing.

to prepare or make ready for a particular purpose or operation.
to supply (a firearm) with powder for communicating fire to a charge.
to lay a train of powder to (a charge, mine, etc.).
to pour or admit liquid into (a pump) to expel air and prepare for action.
to put fuel into (a carburetor) before starting an engine, in order to insure a sufficiently rich mixture at the start.
to cover (a surface) with a preparatory coat or color, as in painting.
to supply or equip with information, words, etc., for use: The politician was primed by his aides for the press conference.
to harvest the bottom leaves from (a tobacco plant).

verb (used without object), primed, prim·ing.

(of a boiler) to deliver or discharge steam containing an excessive amount of water.
to harvest the bottom leaves from a tobacco plant.

Origin of prime

before 1000; 1910–15 for def 5; (adj.) Middle English (< Old French prim) < Latin prīmus first (superlative corresponding to prior prior1); (noun) in part derivative of the adj.; in part continuing Middle English prim(e) first canonical hour, Old English prim < Latin prīma (hōra) first (hour); (v.) apparently derivative of the adj.
Related formsprime·ness, nounnon·prime, adjectivere·prime, verb (used with object), re·primed, re·prim·ing.self-primed, adjectiveun·primed, adjectivewell-primed, adjective

Synonyms for prime

1. primary. 7. Prime, primeval, primitive have reference to that which is first. Prime means first in numerical order or order of development: prime meridian; prime cause. Primeval means belonging to the first or earliest ages: the primeval forest. Primitive suggests the characteristics of the origins or early stages of a development, and hence implies the simplicity of original things: primitive tribes, conditions, ornaments, customs, tools. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for primer

book, reader, hornbook, basal

Examples from the Web for primer

Contemporary Examples of primer

Historical Examples of primer

  • The primer, not the bayonet, should be relied upon to uphold the liberty of a nation.

    Aztec Land

    Maturin M. Ballou

  • There is 'The Raven,' the first primer, the multiplication table.

    The Paliser case

    Edgar Saltus

  • In such a room he had studied his primer and his Ray's Arithmetic.

    Wayside Courtships

    Hamlin Garland

  • She introduced a primer with small black illustrations which fascinated Susan.

  • Then, to stop this "erosion," the obturating (sealing) primer came into use.

British Dictionary definitions for primer




an introductory text, such as a school textbook

Word Origin for primer

C14: via Anglo-Norman from Medieval Latin primārius (liber) a first (book), from Latin prīmārius primary




a person or thing that primes
a device, such as a tube containing explosive, for detonating the main charge in a gun, mine, etc
a substance, such as paint, applied to a surface as a base, sealer, etc
Also called (for senses 2, 3): priming

Word Origin for primer

C15: see prime (vb)



(prenominal) first in quality or value; first-rate
(prenominal) fundamental; original
(prenominal) first in importance, authority, etc; chief
  1. having no factors except itself or onex² + x + 3 is a prime polynomial
  2. (foll by to)having no common factors (with)20 is prime to 21
finance having the best credit ratingprime investments


the time when a thing is at its best
a period of power, vigour, etc, usually following youth (esp in the phrase the prime of life)
the beginning of something, such as the spring
maths short for prime number
linguistics a semantically indivisible element; minimal component of the sense of a word
  1. unison
  2. the tonic of a scale
mainly RC Church the second of the seven canonical hours of the divine office, originally fixed for the first hour of the day, at sunrise
the first of eight basic positions from which a parry or attack can be made in fencing


to prepare (something); make ready
(tr) to apply a primer, such as paint or size, to (a surface)
(tr) to fill (a pump) with its working fluid before starting, in order to improve the sealing of the pump elements and to expel air from it before starting
(tr) to increase the quantity of fuel in the float chamber of (a carburettor) in order to facilitate the starting of an engine
(tr) to insert a primer into (a gun, mine, charge, etc) preparatory to detonation or firing
(intr) (of a steam engine or boiler) to operate with or produce steam mixed with large amounts of water
(tr) to provide with facts, information, etc, beforehand; brief
Derived Formsprimely, adverbprimeness, noun

Word Origin for prime

(adj) C14: from Latin prīmus first; (n) C13: from Latin prīma (hora) the first (hour); (vb) C16: of uncertain origin, probably connected with n
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 primer

late 14c., "prayer-book," also "school book" (senses not distinguished in Middle Ages, as reading was taught from prayer books), from Medieval Latin primarius, from Latin primus "first" (see prime (adj.)). The word also might be all or in part from prime (n.) on the same notion as a "Book of Hours." Meaning "small introductory book on any topic" is from 1807.


"explosive cap," 1819, agent noun from prime (v.).


"first layer of dye or paint," 1680s, from prime (v.).



late 14c., "first in order," from Latin primus "first, the first, first part," figuratively "chief, principal; excellent, distinguished, noble" (source also of Italian and Spanish primo), from pre-Italic *prismos, superlative of PIE *preis- "before," from root *per- (1) "beyond, through" (see per).

Meaning "first in importance" is from 1610s in English; that of "first-rate" is from 1620s. Arithmetical sense (e.g. prime number) is from 1560s; prime meridian is from 1878. Prime time originally (c.1500) meant "spring time;" broadcasting sense of "peak tuning-in period" is attested from 1961.



"earliest canonical hour" (6 a.m.), Old English prim, from Medieval Latin prima "the first service," from Latin prima hora "the first hour" (of the Roman day). Meaning "most vigorous stage" first recorded 1530s; specifically "springtime of human life" (often meaning ages roughly 21 to 28) is from 1590s. In classical Latin, noun uses of the adjective meant "first part, beginning; leading place."



"to fill, charge, load" (a weapon), 1510s, probably from prime (adj.). Meaning "to cover with a first coat of paint or dye" is from c.1600. To prime a pump (c.1840) meant to pour water down the tube, which saturated the sucking mechanism and made it draw up water more readily. Related: Primed; priming.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with primer


In addition to the idioms beginning with prime

  • prime mover
  • prime of life
  • prime the pump

also see:

  • past one's prime
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.