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From Middle French, from Old French, from Latin praecēdēns, present participle of praecēdere ‎(to precede); See precede.


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precedent ‎(plural precedents)

  1. An act in the past which may be used as an example to help decide the outcome of similar instances in the future.
    • Hooker
      Examples for cases can but direct as precedents only.
  2. (law) A decided case which is cited or used as an example to justify a judgment in a subsequent case.
  3. (obsolete, with definite article) The aforementioned (thing).
  4. The previous version.
  5. (obsolete) A rough draught of a writing which precedes a finished copy.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Shakespeare to this entry?)

Derived termsEdit



precedent ‎(not comparable)

  1. Happening or taking place earlier in time; previous or preceding. [from 14th c.]
  2. (now rare) Coming before in a particular order or arrangement; preceding, foregoing. [from 15th c.]
    • 1621, Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, III.2.1.i:
      In the precedent section mention was made, amongst other pleasant objects, of this comeliness and beauty which proceeds from women […].



precedent ‎(third-person singular simple present precedents, present participle precedenting, simple past and past participle precedented)

  1. (transitive, law) To provide precedents for.
  2. (transitive, law) To be a precedent for.

See alsoEdit

Old FrenchEdit


Borrowing from Latin praecēdēns. Compare Middle French preceder.



  1. preceding; that comes before
    • 1303, Bernard de Gordon, Fleur de lis de medecine (a.k.a. lilium medicine):
      Fievre ethique vient sans fievre precedente
      Ethical[?] fever comes without a preceding fever
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