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[hahy-uh-rahr-kee, hahy-rahr-] /ˈhaɪ əˌrɑr ki, ˈhaɪ rɑr-/
noun, plural hierarchies.
any system of persons or things ranked one above another.
government by ecclesiastical rulers.
the power or dominion of a hierarch.
an organized body of ecclesiastical officials in successive ranks or orders:
the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
one of the three divisions of the angels, each made up of three orders, conceived as constituting a graded body.
Also called celestial hierarchy. the collective body of angels.
government by an elite group.
Linguistics. the system of levels according to which a language is organized, as phonemic, morphemic, syntactic, or semantic.
Origin of hierarchy
1300-50; < Medieval Latin hierarchia < Late Greek hierarchía rule or power of the high priest, equivalent to hier- hier- + archía -archy; replacing Middle English jerarchie < Middle French ierarchie < Medieval Latin ierarchia, variant of hierarchia
Related forms
antihierarchy, noun, plural antihierarchies, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for hierarchies
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The first living organisms formed their hierarchies thus: individual unicellular, or plastide; group of plastides or meride.

  • A homely utterance, but it has virtue to overthrow all dynasties and hierarchies.

    The Guardian Angel Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
  • She began to get a faint perception of hierarchies and powers.

    Jennie Gerhardt Theodore Dreiser
  • In the ninth heaven is a manifestation of the Divine Essence, viewed by three hierarchies of Angels.

  • The Papal Church holds still that the angels form three hierarchies, or choirs.

  • The shamans do not appear to constitute a special caste or sacerdotal order, like the hierarchies of the Christian Churches.

    Man, Past and Present Agustus Henry Keane
  • It introduced patterns of interaction and hierarchies today interpreted wholesale as harmful to the entire development of women.

British Dictionary definitions for hierarchies


noun (pl) -chies
a system of persons or things arranged in a graded order
a body of persons in holy orders organized into graded ranks
the collective body of those so organized
a series of ordered groupings within a system, such as the arrangement of plants and animals into classes, orders, families, etc
(linguistics, maths) a formal structure, usually represented by a diagram of connected nodes, with a single uppermost element Compare ordering, heterarchy, tree (sense 6)
government by an organized priesthood
Derived Forms
hierarchical, hierarchic, adjective
hierarchically, adverb
hierarchism, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Medieval Latin hierarchia, from Late Greek hierarkhia, from hierarkhēs high priest; see hiero-, -archy
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
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Word Origin and History for hierarchies



mid-14c., from Old French ierarchie, from Medieval Latin hierarchia "ranked division of angels" (in the system of Dionysius the Areopagite), from Greek hierarkhia "rule of a high priest," from hierarkhes "high priest, leader of sacred rites," from ta hiera "the sacred rites" (neuter plural of hieros "sacred;" see ire) + arkhein "to lead, rule" (see archon). Sense of "ranked organization of persons or things" first recorded 1610s, initially of clergy, sense probably influenced by higher. Related: Hierarchal; hierarchical.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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