Origin of primitive

1350–1400; Middle English (noun and adj.) (< Middle French primitif) < Latin prīmitīvus first of its kind. See prime, -itive
Related formsprim·i·tive·ly, adverbprim·i·tive·ness, prim·i·tiv·i·ty, nounnon·prim·i·tive, adjective, nounnon·prim·i·tive·ly, adverbnon·prim·i·tive·ness, nounpre·prim·i·tive, adjectivepseu·do·prim·i·tive, adjectivesem·i·prim·i·tive, adjectiveun·prim·i·tive, adjectiveun·prim·i·tive·ly, adverbun·prim·i·tive·ness, noun

Synonyms for primitive Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for primitive

Contemporary Examples of primitive

Historical Examples of primitive

  • I'm a primitive woman, and Dick's a primitive man--and, thank God!


    William J. Locke

  • For once, he had expressed that fondness in a primitive fashion, and he was glad.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • The accommodation was as primitive as are the weapons, and that was saying a good deal.

  • This primitive arrangement, we are told, astonished all who heard it.

  • He would reduce us to the example of the primitive ages, forsooth!

    Joseph Andrews Vol. 1

    Henry Fielding

British Dictionary definitions for primitive



of or belonging to the first or beginning; original
characteristic of an early state, esp in being crude or uncivilizeda primitive dwelling
anthropol denoting or relating to a preliterate and nonindustrial social system
  1. of, relating to, or resembling an early stage in the evolutionary development of a particular group of organismsprimitive amphibians
  2. another word for primordial (def. 3)
showing the characteristics of primitive painters; untrained, childlike, or naive
geology pertaining to magmas that have experienced only small degrees of fractional crystallization or crystal contamination
obsolete of, relating to, or denoting rocks formed in or before the Palaeozoic era
obsolete denoting a word from which another word is derived, as for example hope, from which hopeless is derived
Protestant theol of, relating to, or associated with a minority group that breaks away from a sect, denomination, or Church in order to return to what is regarded as the original simplicity of the Gospels


a primitive person or thing
  1. an artist whose work does not conform to traditional, academic, or avant-garde standards of Western painting, such as a painter from an African or Oceanic civilization
  2. a painter of the pre-Renaissance era in European painting
  3. a painter of any era whose work appears childlike or untrainedAlso called (for senses 11a, 11c): naive
a work by such an artist
a word or concept from which another word or concept is derived
maths a curve, function, or other form from which another is derived
Derived Formsprimitively, adverbprimitiveness, noun

Word Origin for primitive

C14: from Latin prīmitīvus earliest of its kind, primitive, 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

Word Origin and History for primitive

late 14c., "of an original cause; of a thing from which something is derived; not secondary" (a sense now associated with primary), from Old French primitif "very first, original" (14c.) and directly from Latin primitivus "first or earliest of its kind," from primitus "at first," from primus "first" (see prime (adj.)).

Meaning "of or belonging to the first age" is from early 15c. Meaning "having the style of an early or ancient time" is from 1680s. In Christian sense of "adhering to the qualities of the early Church" it is recorded from 1680s. Of untrained artists from 1942. Related: Primitively.


c.1400, "original ancestor," from Latin primitivus (see primitive (adj.)). Meaning "aboriginal person in a land visited by Europeans" is from 1779, hence the sense "uncivilized person."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Medicine definitions for primitive




Primary; basic.
Of or being an earliest or original stage.
Being little evolved from an early ancestral type.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Science definitions for primitive



Relating to an early or original stage.
Having evolved very little from an early type. Lampreys and sturgeon are primitive fishes.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.