Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Precedence and Precedents


What is the difference between ‘precedence’ and ‘precedents’? Both words have a very similar pronunciation and even are spelled very close to the same way. The words share their origins from the same word, ‘precede.’ However the words have different meanings and usages, although they are slightly related to each other in the sense of conveying the meaning of coming first or before.

‘Precedence’ is a noun and means the condition of being more important than something or someone else, and because of that being so comes or is dealt with first or made a priority. For example: The large prestigious client took precedence over the smaller and less important client. ‘Precedence’ given to someone or something is often in the form of ceremonial or formal preference or acknowledgement. For example:  The queen was given precedence over the duke. Often when using ‘precedence’, the expression ‘take precedence’ or ‘give precedence’ is used. ‘Precedence’ is a form of the word ‘precede’ which means to happen, go or come before something or someone.

‘Precedent’ also comes from the word ‘precede’, and it can also be a noun. As plural noun, it is ‘precedents’. It means a similar action or event that happened at an earlier time in an earlier occurrence. For example: There was no precedent for the storm that hit this year, because a storm that violent has never happened before. ‘Precedent’ can also mean something that is used as an example or a rule that people follow for future events to authorize, justify or make a decision about something. For example: The judge’s decision on the court case set a precedent about how to handle similar cases should they arise. As in this example, ‘precedence’ is often used with legal matters involving decisions based on other similar previous cases. Finally, as a noun, ‘precedent’ can mean the usual way of doing something. For example: The teacher did not follow the precedent of allowing the students free time after lunch.

The expression ‘broke precedent’ is often used with the definition of an example or the set way of doing something. For example: The company broke precedence in allowing the employees to vote on the matter. Other expressions used with ‘precedent’ include ‘establish a precedent’, ‘set a precedent’ or ‘a dangerous precedent’. For example: The mother set a dangerous precedence by allowing her child to watch TV before doing homework one afternoon, and now the child always wants to watch TV before doing homework.

As an adjective, ‘precedent’ is paired with a noun to mean prior, or before, in time, order, arrangement or significance. For example: The precedent candidate met the qualifications, but the latter one did not. Used in this way, it is very formal and not generally used in everyday conversation. Generally ‘precedent’ when used as an adjective or as a noun in a legal sense is only used in formal or written English.

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