Definition of hierarchy in US English:



  • 1A system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status or authority.

    • ‘Within the hierarchy of the Ethiopian Church, a special role is played by the deacon, or Dabtara.’
    • ‘As expected, the results show a clear-cut hierarchy with the upper class on the top rung of the ladder and the unskilled laborers on the bottom rung.’
    • ‘On the other hand, family income and education, which may reflect rank in the social hierarchy, are strongly related to health.’
    • ‘He sought retreat in a feudal world of deference, aristocracy and hierarchy.’
    • ‘The most intriguing part of the film is the hierarchy of a household where the upper classes live upstairs and the servants downstairs.’
    • ‘Both of these were indications that he was now reaching the upper echelons of the Nazi hierarchy.’
    • ‘Who holds the lowest rank in the well-defined hierarchy of film production: the production assistant or the extra?’
    • ‘It was important that the traditional hierarchy remained intact and that the nobility did not get the impression that they and their old estates were exposed to an attack by the middle class.’
    • ‘Not an end in itself, domestic violence is a means of enforcing gender roles in society and maintaining a hierarchy in which men remain in control.’
    • ‘The most important thing in the election of the chairman was not professional competence in the field, but activity within the Party and a sufficiently high status in the political hierarchy.’
    • ‘Almost in passing, his observation revealed how in modern Britain, despite the demolition of some old hierarchies and snobberies, status still rules.’
    • ‘Degrees of difference within the caste hierarchy were also marked by forms of address, seating arrangements, and other practices of deference and superiority.’
    • ‘One problem with our democracy is that a rigid class and caste hierarchy coupled with gross gender inequality has kept large sections of our population traditionally without a voice.’
    • ‘As a republican, I hate rigid social hierarchy.’
    • ‘The authority of the father was absolute, as the head of a hierarchy arranged by generation, age and sex, in which every member of the extended family was related in rank to every other.’
    • ‘As families assimilated, the traditional hierarchies flattened, giving women and children a greater voice in their households.’
    • ‘The take not used, the part not won, consigned him to a profitable but frustrating secondary status in the Hollywood hierarchy.’
    • ‘For far too long in this country we've had institutions that have been bound by class, by hierarchy.’
    • ‘Boys, on the other hand, tend to have more hierarchically organized groups than girls, and status in the hierarchy is paramount.’
    • ‘At the bottom of this hierarchy was the vast Third Estate which basically meant everybody else, or about 25 million people.’
    pecking order, ranking, grading, ladder, social order, social stratum, social scale, class system
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1the hierarchy The clergy of the Catholic or Episcopal Church; the religious authorities.
      • ‘Clericalism magnifies the importance of the hierarchy, but denies the importance of the laity.’
      • ‘Its work provides a model for future governance of the church, one in which the hierarchy will not only listen to, but also trust, the laity.’
      • ‘Christians believe that the Holy Spirit resides in the church through all of us, not just through the hierarchy.’
      • ‘With time, the visible role of laity in every aspect of church life may have a significant effect on how the hierarchy, as well as those in the pews, think about the nature of authority in the church.’
    2. 1.2the hierarchy The upper echelons of a hierarchical system; those in authority.
      ‘the magazine was read quite widely even by some of the hierarchy’
      • ‘Although his ideas were initially frowned on by the church hierarchy, Catholic leaders later embraced the organisation and Escriva was made a saint in 2002.’
      • ‘It was only upon orders from the party hierarchy that prosecuting MP Tim Eggar dropped the proceedings.’
      • ‘The Catholic hierarchy and clergy, drawn in large part from the rural bourgeoisie, had traditionally been uncomprehending and unsympathetic to the conditions of the urban working class.’
      • ‘Dogged by a corruption inquiry, he appears to have been dumped by the party hierarchy.’
      • ‘Dinner parties and social gatherings on West Road were frequent events, and guests often included visiting academics as well as members of the university hierarchy.’
      • ‘Five days later, the hierarchy issued an episcopal letter that reiterated the imperative for Catholics to embrace democracy and reject electoral fraud.’
      • ‘For eight years the hierarchy has declined to comment on his departure from Maynooth citing legal privilege and only broke its silence a week ago due to relentless media pressure.’
      • ‘He was hesitant to criticize the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and his spirituality was considered overly simplistic and pious.’
      • ‘The Roman Catholic church hierarchy condemned it as blasphemous.’
      • ‘The action followed a public outcry over revelations that the church hierarchy covered up claims of abuse.’
      • ‘If it turns out that Dean reported this guy to the cops, then he at least has more moral sense than several members of the American hierarchy.’
      • ‘The integrity of the church, and particularly of the hierarchy, will be measured by its willingness to respond to this profound moral crisis.’
      • ‘In the 1950s Scotland's Catholic hierarchy embarked upon an ambitious programme of church building in an attempt to reconcile faith with modernity.’
      • ‘The only time the FA's resolve stiffens these days is when a member of its hierarchy decides to try to work his way through the typing pool.’
      • ‘Politically, yesterday's election returns were far more dispiriting for the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Boston.’
      • ‘The leaders of the church - and here I mean the hierarchy - provided little direction.’
    3. 1.3 An arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance or inclusiveness.
      ‘a taxonomic hierarchy of phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, and species’
      • ‘Cladograms are primarily statements about taxonomic hierarchy.’
      • ‘They are arranged in a hierarchy of increasing specificity.’
      • ‘In addition, the category labels have been shortened and no longer necessarily represent the full taxonomic hierarchy, at least in the search results display.’
      • ‘Going on down the hierarchy are phylum, subphylum, class, subclass, order, family, genus, species.’
      • ‘It seems natural to nonetheless try to fit them in to the taxonomic hierarchy that works reasonably well for living organisms.’
      • ‘In reality, Vin de Pays is the second tier of the French quality hierarchy and the category just above basic vin de table.’
      • ‘While many of the aforementioned courses deal with concepts of classification and hierarchy to some extent, none covers the full spectrum of systems and structures.’
      • ‘On the surface, genomes therefore appear to meet all the necessary criteria, and to warrant inclusion in the macroevolutionary hierarchy.’
      • ‘Scientific rationalism is grounded on normative principles and expresses a specific hierarchy of values.’
      • ‘Hardware expenses can be significantly reduced by optimizing the storage hierarchy.’
      • ‘However, as Bem noted in describing the hierarchy of belief structure, religious beliefs are usually of the first-order variety.’
      • ‘Navigation systems should be broken up into an order of hierarchy and importance, while maintaining a feel of cohesion with the rest of the site.’
      • ‘When one classifies some consequences as more critical than others, one is reminded, of course, of the classifications of needs into hierarchies, with some being more basic than others.’
      • ‘This distinction was introduced to accommodate fossil taxa within extant taxa without inflating, unnecessarily, the taxonomic hierarchy.’
      • ‘But there will inevitably be some types of entity whose place in any hierarchy of categories is difficult to settle.’
      • ‘Dance seems to continually be ranked lowest in the hierarchy of socially valuable art forms.’
      • ‘In general, a taxonomy need not be a hierarchy and might involve advanced concepts such as faceted classification.’
      • ‘Clearly, some human rights have greater pre-eminence than others and it may be necessary to identify them through a hierarchy of relative importance.’
      • ‘Mammals and reptiles are classes, way up the taxonomic hierarchy.’
      • ‘Then, when a section of code is run again, it moves up in the hierarchy and is scheduled for optimization, sections that only occur once usually don't get optimized.’
    4. 1.4Theology The traditional system of orders of angels and other heavenly beings.
      • ‘Second, the four-faced angels are the Seraphim and are generally the top of the pile in hierarchies of angels.’
      • ‘Here are three orders which are a reflection of the triple order of the celestial hierarchy.’
      • ‘These celestial beings serve important liturgical and intercessory functions in the hierarchy of angels.’
      • ‘The text itself is divided into nine sections, structured so that each section moves the reader through the celestial hierarchy of angels, from the lowest order to the highest.’


Late Middle English: via Old French and medieval Latin from Greek hierarkhia, from hierarkhēs ‘sacred ruler’ (see hierarch). The earliest sense was ‘system of orders of angels and heavenly beings’; the other senses date from the 17th century.