Definition of precedent in US English:



  • 1An earlier event or action that is regarded as an example or guide to be considered in subsequent similar circumstances.

    ‘there are substantial precedents for using interactive media in training’
    ‘breaking with all precedent’
    • ‘I am going to break with the precedent set by the previous speaker and actually talk about the bill before the House.’
    • ‘We all have to go through the same nonsense, which seems crazy considering the precedent set at the first hearing.’
    • ‘This is both illogical and a precedent we should not allow to be set.’
    • ‘It's a great adrenaline rush to set precedent or prior learning on its ear.’
    • ‘Historical precedent shows pubs have changed their names through the years, usually for good reasons.’
    • ‘I guess the point I want you to consider is what sort of precedent we are establishing here, because it is important for the future.’
    • ‘Once these spaces are let go to development there would be no stopping further development because there would be a precedent set.’
    • ‘Is this a precedent we wish to set for other great regional powers as well?’
    • ‘If precedent holds, it won't be publishers of tax-help books alone who benefit.’
    • ‘People claimed that the precedent set out by the sleeper hit in 1998 was finally superseded.’
    • ‘He said it was without precedent and unfair - especially as the police had not been called in.’
    • ‘However, based on precedent the cards are stacked against them.’
    • ‘What a pleasing precedent any unlikely victory would set!’
    • ‘The precedent it set does not augur well for future similar elections.’
    • ‘So the planners want to look at what precedent they are setting.’
    • ‘I want the kind of precedent I have seen in Europe followed here.’
    • ‘We fear there may well be a precedent set for the rest of her school life.’
    • ‘The public sentiment would have been the necessity for humanitarian considerations to overcome precedent this once.’
    • ‘The result is a game of spot the allusion, with the final mass exodus dictated more by Chekhovian precedent than any kind of political logic.’
    • ‘It is the sort of precedent we are seeing in other legislation.’
    model, exemplar, example, pattern, previous case, prior case, previous example, previous instance, prior example, prior instance
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1Law A previous case or legal decision that may be or (binding precedent) must be followed in subsequent similar cases.
      ‘the decision set a precedent for others to be sent to trial in the US’
      • ‘Critics say that the judges should have let the 1963 precedent stand, even if it was bad.’
      • ‘A lower court cannot set precedent, and must follow any higher courts decision.’
      • ‘Furthermore, this is a case of general importance and it may well set a precedent.’
      • ‘If this court hears the case, they say, any decision would set a precedent and would have ramifications across the country.’
      • ‘The court should never view a foreign legal decision as a precedent in any way.’


precedent /priˈsēd(ə)nt/
  • Preceding in time, order, or importance.

    ‘a precedent case’
    • ‘His first and main ground is that the Inspector had no basis for his conclusion on the precedent effect.’
    • ‘I just want to go back to some of the precedent issues of the settlement process.’
    • ‘This would be an example of precedent activism but not separation-of-powers activism.’
    • ‘All that has happened is that there is a set of precedent requirements of a procedural kind before a court case can be commenced.’
    • ‘Once a power to detain is held to depend on precedent fact, then of course anyone subjected to it can properly invoke habeas corpus.’
    • ‘I shall add to the definition of humanly free agents, that they are agents whose choices do not have fully deterministic precedent causes.’
    one-time, erstwhile, sometime, late, as was
    View synonyms


Late Middle English: from Old French, literally ‘preceding’.