Precedence or Precedents?

What Is the Difference between "Precedence" and "Precedents"?

homesitemapA-Z confused words precedence or precedents?
"Precedence" and "precedents" are easy to confuse because they sound identical (i.e., they are perfect homonyms). However, their meanings are quite different.


"Precedence" means priority or preference. It pertains to ranking.
  • The Viking warriors sat at the table in order of precedence. correct tick


"A precedent" is a previous example used to guide a decision (often in law). "Precedents" is the plural.
  • This is an important trial because it will set a precedent for many others to follow. So far, no useful precedents for this issue have been identified. correct tick
precedence or precedents?

More about Precedence

The noun precedence means priority or preference. It pertains to ranking or "the status in order of importance or urgency."

Example sentences with "precedence":
  • The medics treated them in order of precedence according to their injuries. correct tick
  • The rules that govern the precedence of members of the British Royal Family are complex. correct tick

More about Precedent

The noun "precedent" means "an example from the past that provides evidence for an argument." It is most commonly used in legal circles and, more specifically, can be described as "a previously decided case that guides the decision of a future case."

Example sentences with "precedent":
  • Having discovered a similar case in the past, the prosecution team used this precedent to support their argument. correct tick
  • There is precedent with last year's Smith versus Jones case. correct tick

"Past Precedent" or "Past Precedents"?

The plural "precedent" is "precedents," which sounds identical to "precedence." This is the root of the confusion between these two words. More specifically, you should only use the term "past precedents" if you are referring to more than one "previously decided cases that guide the decision of a future case." Therefore, "past precedent" (referring to a single guiding case) is more common that "past precedents" (multiple guiding cases).

Common Terms

Here are some common terms with precedent and precedence:

Common terms with "precedent"

  • to set a precedent
  • a past precedent
  • a legal precedent

Common terms with "precedence"

  • in order of precedence
  • to take precedence over something

"Precedent" vs "Precedents"

  • As "precedent" means a guiding case, "precedents" is a rare term because it only fits when discussing several guiding cases, which is an unlikely scenario. As a result, "precedent" is far more common than "precedents". Of note, however, "no" can take a plural in English, so writing "no precedents" would be right. Of course, "no precedent" also works.
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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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