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[noun pres-i-duh nt; adjective pri-seed-nt, pres-i-duh nt] /noun ˈprɛs ɪ dənt; adjective 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.
Origin of precedent
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
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Its tenets and its methods were in flat contradiction to true American precedents.

    Stephen A. Douglas Allen Johnson
  • He ventured to declare—following the precedents—that she had treated him shamefully.

    Tristram of Blent Anthony Hope
  • He did no more than follow the precedents of his own and every surrounding nation.

  • These were chiefly well-meaning folks, not much given to the study of precedents.

    We Two Edna Lyall
  • For a partnership between colony and mother country there were no precedents.

    The Canadian Dominion Oscar D. Skelton
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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