Definition of elementary in English:



  • 1Relating to the rudiments of a subject.

    ‘an elementary astronomy course’
    • ‘This old film, a staple of most elementary physics courses, has left an indelible impression on countless students over the years.’
    • ‘We get roughly three dozen students into an elementary Latin course in first year here in Hobart, and I think that's actually quite an impressive number.’
    • ‘Any professor who has given a course on elementary real analysis will have discovered how difficult students find the formally defined notion of negation.’
    • ‘The main one from the point of view of this review consists of Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 7 and is the elementary course in Lie theory.’
    • ‘But then I thought back to my time at Cambridge, taking a course in elementary logic, studying the Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle.’
    • ‘Lagrange taught courses on elementary mathematics there.’
    • ‘The cooler head recently mentioned needs to sit down with Mr. DeLay and engage in an elementary, maybe even remedial, course on the separation of powers.’
    • ‘Euclid also wrote Phaenomena which is an elementary introduction to mathematical astronomy and gives results on the times stars in certain positions will rise and set.’
    • ‘Anyone who missed that lesson in his elementary economics course will certainly have learnt it from the business press in recent months.’
    • ‘For the new abolitionists, it is not that composition is too elementary a subject for higher education.’
    • ‘Well there is physics there, of course, but all elementary.’
    • ‘Courses start at £75 for a Fun Day during the week, going up to £299 for a four-day elementary pilot course at the weekend.’
    • ‘Geminus wrote a number of astronomy texts, including the elementary text Isagoge or Introduction to Astronomy based on the work of Hipparchus which we referred to above.’
    • ‘Because Stretton violates the iron law of content, this book will not be useful in most elementary courses.’
    • ‘The Castle of Knowledge was first published in 1556 and gives an elementary introduction to Ptolemy's version of astronomy.’
    • ‘It is hoped that this atlas will be a continuing source of reference during and beyond the elementary courses of study.’
    • ‘The cast is remanded to Sunday school for an elementary Bible refresher course.’
    • ‘Finally, at the base of the educational pyramid, were the parish schools, providing a one-year elementary course.’
    • ‘Heinrich attended school in Mulhouse, receiving a reasonably good education up to the age of twelve, studying French and Latin in addition to elementary subjects.’
    • ‘Gauss did lecture to Riemann but he was only giving elementary courses and there is no evidence that at this time he recognised Riemann's genius.’
    beginning, opening, commencing, starting, inceptive, embryonic, fledgling
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    1. 1.1 Of the most basic kind.
      ‘the elementary rights of citizenship’
      • ‘But then it also expresses elementary justice, common sense and a basic understanding that different people make different choices.’
      • ‘During the past 15 years, they have transformed Poland into a paradise for big business and the wealthy, while large parts of the population lack the most elementary basic needs.’
      • ‘As long as politicians can't even state the most elementary truths about the course they've set us on, that's not going to change.’
      • ‘I don't doubt Mailander's good faith, but obviously there were elementary errors in his initial entry.’
      • ‘For all his expertise, Mr Magee committed a blunder which the British Crown described at his trial as so elementary as ‘to shame any second-rate burglar’.’
      • ‘The above notions constitute the elementary concepts of category theory.’
      • ‘The random opening and closing of these channels introduces stochasticity into the elementary calcium release mechanism.’
      • ‘But when we reach the limits of vivisection we have other means of going deeper and dealing with the elementary parts of organisms where the elementary properties of vital phenomena have their seat.’
      • ‘In no other advanced capitalist country is it so difficult for an independent working class party to exercise the elementary democratic right of gaining access to the ballot as in the US.’
      • ‘Parents would rather sue the world and screw the responsibilities they took on the minute their bundle of joy was born rather than teach him basic, elementary, fundamental reasoning and sense.’
      • ‘And if they would misrepresent even this most basic, elementary issue, why should I trust them on other, more important things?’
      • ‘The precise mechanism of this elementary act is still subject to discussion.’
      • ‘It's really a basic site with elementary information about its practice areas and little else.’
      • ‘The civil - rights revolution was won in part because Americans could not accept these acts aimed at citizens asking for elementary rights.’
      • ‘Such recombination analysis may help to reveal the time sequence of the elementary processes constituting the pathway.’
      • ‘It was grossly overcrowded and lacking in elementary safety measures and basic facilities.’
      basic, rudimentary, fundamental, basal
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    2. 1.2 Straightforward and uncomplicated.
      ‘a series of elementary exercises’
      • ‘The elementary test for a prime minister who believe the answer is ‘Yes’ is that he say the words.’
      • ‘What's nice about these episodes is that they're elementary and easy to follow.’
      • ‘If MLEP chose not to take what would have been the elementary and simple step of calling Mr Rumsey then one has to say that they did so at their peril.’
      • ‘This write up may appear to be rather simple and elementary, but I must emphasise that enlightening general public as well as most users is considered essential.’
      • ‘The French believed that the complex of traditional custom governing the social order could be replaced by simple, elementary rules deriving from the exercise of human reason and natural law.’
      • ‘The elementary exercise of checking the stability of changes in annual deaths and discrepancies between places studied will sometimes be highly prudent.’
      • ‘For one, Economics in One Lesson can be read by anyone who can perform elementary logical exercises in his mind.’
      • ‘The fact that the left openly regrets CBS's decision not to air a broadcast that flunked the elementary test of truth shows how far the Democrats have fallen.’
      • ‘We had to wait, let's remember, four months before these people finally came in and answered some of the most basic and elementary questions to police detectives.’
      • ‘How on Earth could we be expected to take care of our pets - a fairly elementary task - without being subject to expert guidance and the threat of government regulation?’
      • ‘‘Most of the questions are very basic and elementary,’ the woman pointed out.’
      • ‘If these simple or elementary propositions reflected the facts, then they could be verified against the facts.’
      easy, simple, straightforward, uncomplicated, undemanding, unexacting, effortless, painless, uninvolved, child's play, plain sailing
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  • 2Not decomposable into elements or other primary constituents.

    • ‘Complex molecules are assemblages of those elementary molecules whose metabolic evolution is being studied.’
    • ‘Its perceptual configurations have been thought to have a special relevance to the emergence of formal artistic qualities which cannot be reduced to a measurable aggregate of more elementary constituents.’
    • ‘Fortunately, few people are likely to encounter elementary fluorine in their daily lives.’
    • ‘In these hemipelagic units, the cyclic alternation of limestones and marls constitutes the elementary stratigraphic building blocks.’
    • ‘It is hardly fanciful to say that, at the beginning of the century, scientific understanding was equated with reducing structures, including that of the mind, to their elementary constituents.’
    • ‘Atoms are the elementary building blocks of material substances.’
    • ‘The basic elementary sounds of a language are called phonemes.’
    • ‘Another theoretical advantage of RFA is that it denatures viral proteins without a plume and its by products are elementary molecules and low molecular weight inert gases.’
    • ‘All our successful laws of Nature's elementary constituents are quantum field theories.’


Late Middle English (in the sense ‘composed of the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water’): from Latin elementarius, from elementum ‘principle, rudiment’ (see element). Current senses date from the mid 16th century.