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[pree-fekt] /ˈpri fɛkt/
a person appointed to any of various positions of command, authority, or superintendence, as a chief magistrate in ancient Rome or the chief administrative official of a department of France or Italy.
Roman Catholic Church.
  1. the dean of a Jesuit school or college.
  2. a cardinal in charge of a congregation in the Curia Romana.
Chiefly British. a praeposter.
Origin of prefect
1300-50; Middle English < Latin praefectus overseer, director (noun use of past participle of praeficere to make prior, i.e., put in charge), equivalent to prae- pre- + -fectus (combining form of factus, past participle of facere to make, do1); see fact
Related forms
subprefect, noun
underprefect, noun
Can be confused
perfect, prefect (see usage note at perfect) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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British Dictionary definitions for prefect


(in France, Italy, etc) the chief administrative officer in a department
(in France, etc) the head of a police force
(Brit) a schoolchild appointed to a position of limited power over his fellows
(in ancient Rome) any of several magistrates or military commanders
(RC Church) Also called prefect apostolic. an official having jurisdiction over a missionary district that has no ordinary
(RC Church) one of two senior masters in a Jesuit school or college (the prefect of studies and the prefect of discipline or first prefect)
(RC Church) a cardinal in charge of a congregation of the Curia
Also (for senses 4–7) praefect
Derived Forms
prefectorial (ˌpriːfɛkˈtɔːrɪəl) adjective
Word Origin
C14: from Latin praefectus one put in charge, from praeficere to place in authority over, from prae before + facere to do, make
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for prefect

mid-14c., "civil or military official," from Old French prefect (12c., Modern French préfet) and directly from Latin praefectus "public overseer, superintendent, director," noun use of past participle of praeficere "to put in front, to set over, put in authority," from prae "in front, before" (see pre-) + root of facere (past participle factus) "to perform" (see factitious). Spelling restored from Middle English prefet. Meaning "administrative head of the Paris police" is from 1800; meaning "senior pupil designated to keep order in an English school" is from 1864. Related: Prefectorial.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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