Precedence or Precedents?

by Craig Shrives

Precedence or Precedents?

What is the difference between "precedence" and "precedents"?
  • "Precedence" means priority or preference. It pertains to ranking.
  • "A precedent" is a previous example used to guide a decision (often in law). "Precedents" is the plural.
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."

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

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."

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

"Past Precedent" or "Past Precedents"?

Sounding identical to "precedence," the plural form of "precedent" is "precedents," and 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
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? cannot or can not? who's or whose? What are nouns? List of easily confused words