Definition of elementary in US English:



  • 1Relating to the most rudimentary aspects of a subject.

    ‘the six stages take students from elementary to advanced level’
    • ‘Finally, at the base of the educational pyramid, were the parish schools, providing a one-year elementary course.’
    • ‘But then I thought back to my time at Cambridge, taking a course in elementary logic, studying the Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It is hoped that this atlas will be a continuing source of reference during and beyond the elementary courses of study.’
    • ‘For the new abolitionists, it is not that composition is too elementary a subject for higher education.’
    • ‘The cast is remanded to Sunday school for an elementary Bible refresher course.’
    • ‘The Castle of Knowledge was first published in 1556 and gives an elementary introduction to Ptolemy's version of astronomy.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Because Stretton violates the iron law of content, this book will not be useful in most elementary courses.’
    • ‘Well there is physics there, of course, but all elementary.’
    • ‘This old film, a staple of most elementary physics courses, has left an indelible impression on countless students over the years.’
    • ‘Any professor who has given a course on elementary real analysis will have discovered how difficult students find the formally defined notion of negation.’
    • ‘Lagrange taught courses on elementary mathematics there.’
    • ‘Anyone who missed that lesson in his elementary economics course will certainly have learnt it from the business press in recent months.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    beginning, opening, commencing, starting, inceptive, embryonic, fledgling
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    1. 1.1 Easily dealt with; straightforward and uncomplicated.
      ‘it's interesting work, although a lot of it is elementary’
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘The elementary test for a prime minister who believe the answer is ‘Yes’ is that he say the words.’
      • ‘The elementary exercise of checking the stability of changes in annual deaths and discrepancies between places studied will sometimes be highly prudent.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘‘Most of the questions are very basic and elementary,’ the woman pointed out.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘What's nice about these episodes is that they're elementary and easy to follow.’
      • ‘If these simple or elementary propositions reflected the facts, then they could be verified against the facts.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘For one, Economics in One Lesson can be read by anyone who can perform elementary logical exercises in his mind.’
      easy, simple, straightforward, uncomplicated, undemanding, unexacting, effortless, painless, uninvolved, child's play, plain sailing
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    2. 1.2 Not decomposable into elements or other primary constituents.
      • ‘Atoms are the elementary building blocks of material substances.’
      • ‘Complex molecules are assemblages of those elementary molecules whose metabolic evolution is being studied.’
      • ‘Fortunately, few people are likely to encounter elementary fluorine in their daily lives.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘All our successful laws of Nature's elementary constituents are quantum field theories.’
      • ‘In these hemipelagic units, the cyclic alternation of limestones and marls constitutes the elementary stratigraphic building blocks.’
      • ‘The basic elementary sounds of a language are called phonemes.’
      • ‘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.’


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.