[ tur-shee-er-ee, tur-shuh-ree ]
See synonyms for tertiary on Thesaurus.com
  1. of the third order, rank, stage, formation, etc.; third.

  2. Chemistry.

    • noting or containing a carbon atom united to three other carbon atoms.

    • formed by replacement of three atoms or groups.

  1. (initial capital letter)Geology. noting or pertaining to the period forming the earlier part of the Cenozoic Era, occurring from 65 million to 2 million years ago, characterized by the development and proliferation of mammals.

  2. Ornithology. tertial.

  3. Ecclesiastical. noting or pertaining to a branch, or third order, of certain religious orders that consists of lay members living in community (regular tertiaries ) or living in the world (secular tertiaries ).

noun,plural ter·ti·ar·ies.
  1. (initial capital letter)Geology. the Tertiary Period or System.

  2. Ornithology. a tertial feather.

  1. (often initial capital letter)Ecclesiastical. a member of a tertiary branch of a religious order.

Origin of tertiary

1540–50; <Latin tertiārius of third part or rank, equivalent to terti(us) third + -ārius-ary

Other words from tertiary

  • post-Ter·ti·ar·y, adjective
  • pre-Ter·ti·ar·y, adjective

Words Nearby tertiary

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How to use tertiary in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for tertiary (1 of 2)


/ (ˈtɜːʃərɪ) /

  1. third in degree, order, etc

  2. (of education) taking place after secondary school, such as at university, college, etc

  1. (of an industry) involving services as opposed to extraction or manufacture, such as transport, finance, etc: Compare primary (def. 8b), secondary (def. 7)

  2. RC Church of or relating to a Third Order

  3. chem

    • (of an organic compound) having a functional group attached to a carbon atom that is attached to three other groups

    • (of an amine) having three organic groups attached to a nitrogen atom

    • (of a salt) derived from a tribasic acid by replacement of all its acidic hydrogen atoms with metal atoms or electropositive groups

  4. Also called: tertial ornithol rare of, relating to, or designating any of the small flight feathers attached to the part of the humerus nearest to the body

nounplural -tiaries
  1. Also called: tertial ornithol rare any of the tertiary feathers

  2. RC Church a member of a Third Order

Origin of tertiary

C16: from Latin tertiārius containing one third, from tertius third

British Dictionary definitions for Tertiary (2 of 2)


/ (ˈtɜːʃərɪ) /

  1. of, denoting, or formed in the first period of the Cenozoic era, which lasted for 63 million years, during which mammals became dominant

  1. the Tertiary the Tertiary period or rock system, divided into Palaeocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, and Pliocene epochs or series

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 tertiary


[ tûrshē-ĕr′ē ]

  1. Tertiary. The first period of the Cenozoic Era, from about 65 to 2 million years ago. During this time the continents took on their present form, and the climate changed from being warmer and wetter, in the early part of the period, to being drier and cooler in the later part. Mammals replaced dinosaurs as the dominant form of terrestrial animal life, and many modern types of flowering plants, insects, mollusks, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds appeared. The Tertiary is subdivided into the Paleogene and the Neogene, although these terms are not as widely used as are the names of the epochs that constitute them. See Chart at geologic time.

    • Relating to or having a carbon atom that is attached to three other carbon atoms in a molecule.

    • Relating to an organic molecule, such as an alcohol, in which the functional group is attached to a tertiary carbon.

  1. Relating to an advanced level of medical care, usually provided by subspecialists after the delivery of primary medical care. Compare primary secondary.

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