Definition of primary in US English:



  • 1Of chief importance; principal.

    ‘the government's primary aim is to see significant reductions in unemployment’
    • ‘In the main they were able to distinguish between matters of primary importance and secondary issues.’
    • ‘This is a current mission for select members of our armed forces, but should it not be the primary mission given its importance?’
    • ‘Demand for properties with all day sun is higher and this is a very important consideration if your primary aim is investment.’
    • ‘His pastoral ministry was of primary importance and he brought his own manner and style to that ministry.’
    • ‘He has been the primary proponent, chief scientist, and principal investigator of numerous research missions.’
    • ‘Doughs based on rice, maize, and other grains are made in non-wheat cuisines, but generally lack the primary importance of wheat doughs.’
    • ‘Yet here we see, in terms of institutional authority and hierarchy, it is precisely words and title that are of primary importance.’
    • ‘But the primary importance of the agreement does not lie in its precise terms, but in the example it sets.’
    • ‘It is not of primary importance to the profession of plumbers, for example, what the public thinks of them.’
    • ‘Crop rotation is of primary importance in these systems with at least two - to three-year rotation away from wheat.’
    • ‘Its product, wood, is of primary importance to humans as timber for construction, fuelwoods, and wood-pulp for paper manufacturing.’
    • ‘The settlement and distribution of land to refugees from outside the Morea was of primary importance for the Venetians.’
    • ‘They share the same ideas about bringing up their son and his welfare is of primary importance to both of them.’
    • ‘They utilize explanation more than demonstration and consider the transmission of information to be of primary importance.’
    • ‘Presenting the right image to customers is of primary importance in a market-driven economy that is teeming with rivals.’
    • ‘Health is also of primary importance to lower-income earners, who may have lower rates of health insurance coverage.’
    • ‘Giving counselling to both aged and youth is of primary importance.’
    • ‘The primary rationale for this principle is that the writing represents the most reliable record of the parties' latest agreement.’
    • ‘Although the referred child was the identified client, family sessions were of primary importance.’
    • ‘On the facts of this case, it seems clear that it is the fourth of these principles that is of primary importance.’
    main, chief, key, prime, central, principal, foremost, first, most important, predominant, paramount, overriding, major, ruling, dominant, master, supreme, cardinal, pre-eminent, ultimate
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  • 2Earliest in time or order.

    ‘the primary stage of their political education’
    • ‘The colors of the secondary rainbow are in reverse order from the primary rainbow.’
    • ‘This was one of the primary forces that originally drove researchers to the phones.’
    • ‘Each mission features a series of objectives: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary.’
    • ‘My primary initial objection to the film was the appearance of the Ents.’
    • ‘Most importantly, the final comprehensive map is dependent on the order in which the primary maps are incorporated.’
    • ‘With such a variety of services under his wing, one of Horn's primary initiatives has been to unite them.’
    • ‘Traditional rhetoric describes metaphors as emerging from a hierarchical relation between a primary and secondary context of language use.’
    • ‘Branches were similarly identified by the position of their phytomer of origin on the primary stolon.’
    • ‘To investigate tuber tissue structure, samples were taken from a core of tissue in the medial longitudinal plane, from beneath the primary bud to the base of the tuber.’
    • ‘We have the domestic economic areas: we have infrastructure, which is primary.’
    • ‘The initial, primary rhizoid emerges from the spore during germination.’
    • ‘The primary requirement for initiation of germination and completion of the subsequent steps is the sensing of external signals.’
    • ‘During primary socialization we absorb basic knowledge about our society's values, norms, folkways, and mores.’
    • ‘In the acquisition of language the role of listening to ourselves is primary.’
    • ‘I thought that the original question, the primary question, was proper.’
    • ‘As time passes, different cultural input alters the primary image and cultural exchanges overlay it, yet, the core archetype remains pure.’
    • ‘This double-observer approach is based on a primary observer who relays all birds he or she detects at a point to the secondary observer.’
    • ‘So our primary initiative was to find out how depression is perceived, experienced and understood by patients in the country.’
    • ‘The water from the source is pumped into the primary filter initially to reduce the level of turbidity, suspended solids and organic matter.’
    • ‘Lateral branches growing directly from the primary stolon are designated first-order branches.’
    original, earliest, initial, beginning, first
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  • 3Not derived from, caused by, or based on anything else; original.

    ‘his expert handling of the primary and secondary literature is clear on every page’
    • ‘Aside from the primary source material contained in the aforementioned archives, there are the newspapers, both local and national.’
    • ‘The strength of this book is its careful use of detailed primary source material.’
    • ‘She immerses us well in the period using an extensive range of primary source material as well as secondary sources dealing with the topic.’
    • ‘Go for primary sources, or near enough, anything to get behind the sensationalist facades projected by the media.’
    • ‘His work is well researched and abounds with material garnered from primary sources.’
    • ‘Children will be involved in historical investigations using primary resources, based on the revised history syllabus.’
    • ‘Without properly outlined references and more primary source material, I seriously doubt this claim.’
    • ‘Sandler's work has immediacy and conviction because it is, in a real sense, primary source material.’
    • ‘One of my professors in graduate school told me once that the only way to learn anything was by ‘sustained attention to primary sources.’’
    • ‘The research is solidly based in published primary sources: books, pamphlets, and trial records.’
    • ‘Can the detail of his paintings be used as primary, real-world source material?’
    • ‘The major chunk of my primary source material for the history of contemporary modified-car culture comes from car magazines.’
    • ‘The book by Ryan and Conlon, more narrowly focused on women in industrial relations, was the most firmly based on new primary research.’
    • ‘Gerard DeGroot has produced a brisk, clear, engaging account based on a wide range of secondary sources and some primary materials.’
    • ‘Model lessons are another way to demonstrate how collections of primary source materials can be used within particular content areas.’
    • ‘The addition of oral history interviews enhances the primary source material and makes the text all the more interesting.’
    • ‘First, this is a work of very careful scholarship, based on both primary and secondary sources.’
    • ‘Did they just Google something and slam it onto their site, without checking the primary source material?’
    • ‘The digitized programs feature oral histories and news footage that can be used as primary source material and complement textbooks.’
    • ‘Farrell is an assiduous researcher and has a thorough, if not overwhelming command of the primary sources and secondary material.’
    1. 3.1Medicine Biology Belonging to or directly derived from the first stage of development or growth.
      ‘a primary bone tumor’
      • ‘As primary bone tumors are rare in toddlers, search for a primary tumor metastatic to bones is needed.’
      • ‘We do not know whether the tumor in the bone marrow represents a primary or metastatic process.’
      • ‘There are two primary planting seasons for perennials: spring and fall.’
      • ‘Biopsy of the primary growth itself is diagnostic and may show caseating granulomatous inflammation.’
      • ‘The risk for developing metastatic lesions from primary cutaneous melanomas increases with tumor thickness.’
  • 4British Relating to education for children between the ages of about five and ten.

    ‘a primary school’
    • ‘Teachers from primary, secondary and special schools will be trained, and will pass the techniques on to colleagues.’
    • ‘Teachers in the primary grades used both Spanish and English, moving toward mostly English in the upper grades.’
    • ‘In 2000, 83% of nursery and primary teachers were women and so, right from the start, boys have few male role models.’
    • ‘She also said primary head teachers were concerned about the amount taken to pay Education Bradford before the cash went out to schools.’
    • ‘In primary education there is an acute shortage of teachers.’
    • ‘This marked the first step in an ongoing effort to link early childhood and primary education.’
    • ‘That will take five years, as more primary teachers have yet to be recruited and trained.’
    • ‘There is a great concern over the quality and supply of kindergarten and primary teachers in Hong Kong.’
    • ‘After pupils there leave primary education, they are expected to travel, on average, four miles from home each morning.’
    • ‘The council is addressing the problem by building two new primary schools by 2006.’
    • ‘Worst of all, many schoolchildren have to face dropping out after primary schooling because secondary education is not free.’
    • ‘Yet, as teachers told me, education beyond primary level is confined to a tiny minority - those who win scholarships or whose parents can pay fees.’
    • ‘More than four in every five primary teachers see handwriting as an important part of homework.’
    • ‘Their task is to support primary and junior high school teachers teaching information education by utilizing personal computers.’
    • ‘The majority of teachers in government-supported early childhood programs are trained as primary level teachers.’
    • ‘The centre will be at the heart of the regional network and aims to transform the training of both primary and secondary school teachers.’
    • ‘Most students leaving primary education continue into secondary school.’
    • ‘Local retired primary teachers visited the centre to assist the educational programme.’
    • ‘His wife Phyllis, a primary head teacher, had hoped that a Cabinet post would not make Finnie too high profile.’
    • ‘We have 774 teachers going into early childhood, primary, and secondary education.’
  • 5Geology

    former term for Paleozoic
    • ‘First came the Primitive or Primary rocks, then the Secondary, than finally the Alluvial or Tertiary.’
    • ‘This family of reptiles is allied to the living monitor, and its appearance in a primary or paleozoic formation, observes Prof. Owen, is opposed to the doctrine of the progressive development of reptiles from fish, or from simpler to more complex forms; for, if they existed at the present day, these monitors would take rank at the head of the Lacertian order.’
    • ‘It was indeed supposed by some of the earlier observers, that the granite of Christiania, in Norway, was intercalated in mountain masses between the primary or paleozoic strata of that country, so as to overlie fossiliferous shale and limestone.’
  • 6Relating to or denoting the input side of a device using electromagnetic induction, especially in a transformer.

    • ‘Alternating current flowing in the primary (input) coil creates a continually changing magnetic field in the iron core, this field also passes through the secondary (output) coil and the changing strength of the magnetic field induces an alternating voltage in the secondary coil.’
    • ‘These two pins are the primary winding of the transformer.’
    • ‘A current transformer has a pair of input terminals and a primary side which is switchable to different measuring ranges.’
  • 7Chemistry
    (of an organic compound) having its functional group located on a carbon atom which is bonded to no more than one other carbon atom.

    • ‘We, therefore, assumed that toluene was the primary organic solvent that the subjects were exposed to.’
    • ‘The region between C - 60 to - 70 can be assigned to C of C-O in primary alcohols and polysaccharides.’
    • ‘Glycerin is a thick liquid with a sweet taste that is found in fats and oils and is the primary triglyceride found in coconut and olive oil.’
    • ‘Depending on the type of monomer, side groups may extend out from this primary backbone.’
    • ‘In certain conditions, we found that the primary product formed when an alcohol was passed over these catalysts was the corresponding symmetrical ester.’
    1. 7.1 (chiefly of amines) derived from ammonia by replacement of one hydrogen atom by an organic group.
      • ‘This nascent bleach can also react with primary or secondary amines to form longer lasting, antimicrobial chloramines.’
      • ‘These reactions occur via acylation or alkylation and are often rapid, forming stable primary amide or secondary amine bonds.’
      • ‘The tosylactivated beads form covalent bonds with any available primary amino or sulfhydryl groups.’
      • ‘Secondary and tertiary amides are prepared by reacting primary amides or nitriles with organic acids.’
      • ‘The amine and epoxide functional groups are the primary characters in the epoxy reaction.’


  • 1(in the US) a preliminary election to appoint delegates to a party conference or to select the candidates for a principal, especially presidential, election.

    • ‘If he can transcend special interests, then he can win primaries in his own party by appealing to moderate rank-and-file voters.’
    • ‘I can't find an article right now, but he also supports a proposition that would change the primary system, to allow all voters to vote in primaries, regardless of party affiliation.’
    • ‘But Louisiana, except in Presidential election years, has no party primaries.’
    • ‘Parties choose their own candidates through competitive primaries.’
    • ‘Officially an election campaign starts in February with the presidential primaries in the so-called ‘primary season’.’
    • ‘The character, personality, and style of presidential candidates have become a mainstay in the evaluation process during both the primaries and the general election.’
    • ‘The presidential candidates today campaigned in states that hold primaries on Super Tuesday.’
    • ‘Following the presidential primaries, an interesting question was raised about what losing candidates should do with the personal information they collected.’
    • ‘Party primaries tend to favor more extreme candidates, he said, but centrist candidates have the edge in general elections.’
    • ‘During a political party's election primaries, its best talent is selected and nominated to run for public office.’
    • ‘Whether these fast-tracked primaries have rushed the party into the nomination of a candidate that will prove vulnerable in the course of a more protracted and intense campaign is unclear.’
    • ‘In Oregon, all statewide primaries and general elections are now conducted exclusively with mail-in ballots.’
    • ‘The April party primaries selected only candidates for the U.S. Congress plus candidates for state and county offices.’
    • ‘I mean, anybody can vote for anybody in the general election, the primaries are long over and in Florida, they're so late in the season they hardly matter anyway.’
    • ‘Candidates are able rationally to plan a strategy for the primaries and the general election.’
    • ‘Many people believe that a successful candidate wins primaries by having a strong platform and discussing the issues.’
    • ‘Although money isn't everything, there are people with lots of money who are defeated in primaries and general elections.’
    • ‘Neither of these parties had primaries as part of their presidential nomination processes.’
    • ‘The rules for write-in votes differ in the general election from the primary.’
    • ‘They have one of these no-run-off primaries, which means you can win a primary with four candidates with only a plurality of the vote.’
  • 2A primary color.

    • ‘In dealing with pigment the primaries are red, blue, and yellow, not green.’
    • ‘Because of this, even a screen area as small as the size of a single pixel contains equal proportions of the three primaries.’
    • ‘The colors are primaries and secondaries, rich and tonal, with an occasional warm gray or black thrown in.’
    • ‘From any two of the primaries we obtain a secondary - yellow, magenta, or cyan (turquoise); from all three we get white light.’
    • ‘The three types of cones are often, and somewhat misleadingly, equated with Maxwell's additive primaries of red, blue, and green.’
    • ‘All of the shapes inside of this circle are then painted with 12 pure, high-intensity tempera colors - the primaries, secondaries and intermediates.’
    1. 2.1Ornithology A primary feather.
      • ‘Subadult females had significantly shorter wings and outer primaries than did older females.’
      • ‘One or more additional layers of shorter feathers may overlie the proximal parts of the flight primaries and secondaries.’
      • ‘In fact, it reminded me of a pintail duck in the way its primaries, the ten outermost feathers of the wing, seemed to do all the flying.’
      • ‘Characteristics shared with other Apodiformes include: tiny feet, long wings with long primaries, short humeri and short secondaries.’
      • ‘Seen in flight, the white on the wings of the Greater Scaup extends into the primaries, where it is gray on the Lesser Scaup.’
    2. 2.2Astronomy The body orbited by a smaller satellite or companion.
      • ‘Such a body rotates once about its axis in the same length of time that it orbits the primary.’
      • ‘Planets move around their primaries in accordance with Kepler's Law of Motion.’
    3. 2.3 A primary coil or winding in an electrical transformer.
      • ‘Just like a coil, you can check the continuity of any primary or secondary transformer winding.’
  • 3the PrimaryGeology
    dated The Primary or Paleozoic era.


Late Middle English (in the sense ‘original, not derivative’): from Latin primarius, from primus ‘first’. The noun uses date from the 18th century.