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[n. pres-i-duh nt; adj. pri-seed-nt, pres-i-duh nt] /n. ˈprɛs ɪ dənt; adj. prɪˈsid nt, ˈprɛs ɪ dənt/
Law. a legal decision or form of proceeding serving as an authoritative rule or pattern in future similar or analogous cases.
any act, decision, or case that serves as a guide or justification for subsequent situations.
adjective, precedent
going or coming before; preceding; anterior.
1350-1400; (adj.) Middle English < Latin praecēdent- (stem of praecēdēns) present participle of praecēdere to go before, precede (see -ent); (noun) late Middle English, derivative of the adj.
Related forms
precedentless, adjective
nonprecedent, noun
nonprecedent, adjective
quasi-precedent, adjective
Can be confused
precedence, precedents, presidents. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for precedents
  • Maybe it has to do with historical precedents in those areas.
  • There are precedents for this kind of fundamental examination.
  • There are many precedents in industry and manufacturing.
  • Indeed, there were even precedents for my motivation in embarking on such work in the first place.
  • Other precedents have been established for societal constraint of animal researchers.
  • precedents are out there: commit yourselves to finding a suitable pattern for your own department to follow.
  • And there are precedents, on a smaller scale, for these kinds of changes.
  • Through his research, he has learned that the noise-bedevilled artist has distinguished precedents.
  • But when he first exploded into public view, there were no precedents.
  • There would seem to be some precedents for this in her curriculum vitae.
British Dictionary definitions for precedents


noun (ˈprɛsɪdənt)
(law) a judicial decision that serves as an authority for deciding a later case
an example or instance used to justify later similar occurrences
adjective (prɪˈsiːdənt; ˈprɛsɪdənt)
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 precedents



early 15c., "case which may be taken as a rule in similar cases," from Middle French precedent, noun use of an adjective, from Latin praecedentum (nominative praecedens), present participle of praecedere "go before" (see precede). Meaning "thing or person that goes before another" is attested from mid-15c. As an adjective in English from c.1400. As a verb meaning "to furnish with a precedent" from 1610s, now only in past participle precedented.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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precedents in Culture
precedent [(press-uh-duhnt)]

A previous ruling by a court that influences subsequent decisions in cases with similar issues.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Idioms and Phrases with precedents


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Encyclopedia Article for precedents


in law, a judgment or decision of a court that is cited in a subsequent dispute as an example or analogy to justify deciding a similar case or point of law in the same manner. Common law and equity, as found in English and American legal systems, rely strongly on the body of established precedents, although in the original development of equity the court theoretically had freedom from precedent. At the end of the 19th century, the principle of stare decisis (Latin: "let the decision stand") became rigidly accepted in England. In the United States the principle of precedent is strong, though higher courts-particularly the Supreme Court of the United States-may review and overturn earlier precedents.

Learn more about precedent with a free trial on
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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