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[prim-i-tiv] /ˈprɪm ɪ tɪv/
being the first or earliest of the kind or in existence, especially in an early age of the world:
primitive forms of life.
early in the history of the world or of humankind.
characteristic of early ages or of an early state of human development:
primitive toolmaking.
Anthropology. of or relating to a preliterate or tribal people having cultural or physical similarities with their early ancestors: no longer in technical use.
unaffected or little affected by civilizing influences; uncivilized; savage:
primitive passions.
being in its earliest period; early:
the primitive phase of the history of a town.
primitive ideas and habits.
simple; unsophisticated:
a primitive farm implement.
crude; unrefined:
primitive living conditions.
  1. of or relating to a form from which a word or other linguistic form is derived; not derivative; original or radical.
  2. of or relating to a protolanguage.
  3. of or relating to a linguistic prime.
primary, as distinguished from secondary.
  1. rudimentary; primordial.
  2. noting species, varieties, etc., only slightly evolved from early antecedent types.
  3. of early formation and temporary, as a part that subsequently disappears.
someone or something primitive.
Fine Arts.
  1. an artist of a preliterate culture.
  2. a naive or unschooled artist.
  3. an artist belonging to the early stage in the development of a style.
  4. a work of art by a primitive artist.
  1. a geometric or algebraic form or expression from which another is derived.
  2. a function of which the derivative is a given function.
Linguistics. the form from which a given word or other linguistic form has been derived, by either morphological or historical processes, as take in undertake.
Origin of primitive
1350-1400; Middle English (noun and adj.) (< Middle French primitif) < Latin prīmitīvus first of its kind. See prime, -itive
Related forms
primitively, adverb
primitiveness, primitivity, noun
nonprimitive, adjective, noun
nonprimitively, adverb
nonprimitiveness, noun
preprimitive, adjective
pseudoprimitive, adjective
semiprimitive, adjective
unprimitive, adjective
unprimitively, adverb
unprimitiveness, noun
1, 2. prehistoric, primal, primary, primordial, original, aboriginal, antediluvian, pristine. See prime. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for primitive
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • They were strange, primitive people, and yet kind and grateful.

    Spinifex and Sand David W Carnegie
  • I'm a primitive woman, and Dick's a primitive man--and, thank God!

    Viviette William J. Locke
  • One wishes that this primitive princess could have had another name.

    Mentone, Cairo, and Corfu Constance Fenimore Woolson
  • The whole climb of civilization had been away from these primitive things.

    City of Endless Night Milo Hastings
  • The booking facilities at Wrangel are primitive, to say the least.

    Burned Bridges Bertrand W. Sinclair
British Dictionary definitions for primitive


of or belonging to the first or beginning; original
characteristic of an early state, esp in being crude or uncivilized: a primitive dwelling
(anthropol) denoting or relating to a preliterate and nonindustrial social system
  1. of, relating to, or resembling an early stage in the evolutionary development of a particular group of organisms: primitive amphibians
  2. another word for primordial (sense 3)
showing the characteristics of primitive painters; untrained, childlike, or naive
(geology) pertaining to magmas that have experienced only small degrees of fractional crystallization or crystal contamination
(obsolete) of, relating to, or denoting rocks formed in or before the Palaeozoic era
(obsolete) denoting a word from which another word is derived, as for example hope, from which hopeless is derived
(Protestant theol) of, relating to, or associated with a minority group that breaks away from a sect, denomination, or Church in order to return to what is regarded as the original simplicity of the Gospels
a primitive person or thing
  1. an artist whose work does not conform to traditional, academic, or avant-garde standards of Western painting, such as a painter from an African or Oceanic civilization
  2. a painter of the pre-Renaissance era in European painting
  3. a painter of any era whose work appears childlike or untrained Also called (for senses 11a, 11c) naive
a work by such an artist
a word or concept from which another word or concept is derived
(maths) a curve, function, or other form from which another is derived
Derived Forms
primitively, adverb
primitiveness, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Latin prīmitīvus earliest of its kind, primitive, from prīmus first
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 primitive

late 14c., "of an original cause; of a thing from which something is derived; not secondary" (a sense now associated with primary), from Old French primitif "very first, original" (14c.) and directly from Latin primitivus "first or earliest of its kind," from primitus "at first," from primus "first" (see prime (adj.)).

Meaning "of or belonging to the first age" is from early 15c. Meaning "having the style of an early or ancient time" is from 1680s. In Christian sense of "adhering to the qualities of the early Church" it is recorded from 1680s. Of untrained artists from 1942. Related: Primitively.


c.1400, "original ancestor," from Latin primitivus (see primitive (adj.)). Meaning "aboriginal person in a land visited by Europeans" is from 1779, hence the sense "uncivilized person."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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primitive in Medicine

primitive prim·i·tive (prĭm'ĭ-tĭv)

  1. Primary; basic.

  2. Of or being an earliest or original stage.

  3. Being little evolved from an early ancestral type.

prim'i·tive·ness or prim'i·tiv'i·ty n.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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primitive in Science
  1. Relating to an early or original stage.

  2. Having evolved very little from an early type. Lampreys and sturgeon are primitive fishes.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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primitive in Technology

A function, operator, or type which is built into a programming language (or operating system), either for speed of execution or because it would be impossible to write it in the language. Primitives typically include the arithmetic and logical operations (plus, minus, and, or, etc.) and are implemented by a small number of machine language instructions.

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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