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pri·mar·y (prīmĕrē, -mə-rē)
1. First or highest in rank or importance; principal. See Synonyms at chief.
a. Occurring first in time or sequence; earliest: the primary stages of the project.
b. Of or relating to primary schools.
a. Not derived from anything else; basic or original: The interviews and other primary materials in the study are more interesting than the analysis.
b. Immediate; direct: a primary source of information.
4. Geology Characteristic of or existing in a rock at the time of its formation.
5. Of or relating to a primary color or colors.
6. Linguistics
a. Having a word root or other linguistic element as a basis that cannot be further analyzed or broken down. Used of the derivation of a word or word element.
b. Referring to present or future time. Used as a collective designation for various present and future verb tenses in Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit.
c. Of or relating to primary stress.
7. Electronics Of, relating to, or constituting an inducting current, circuit, or coil.
8. Of, relating to, or designating the main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of a bird's wing.
9. Of or relating to agriculture, forestry, the industries that extract natural materials from the earth, or the products so obtained: a primary commodity.
10. Chemistry
a. Relating to, or having a carbon atom that is attached to only one other carbon atom in a molecule.
b. Relating to the replacement of only one of several atoms or groups in a compound, such as an amine in which one valence of the functional group is taken by a carbon atom.
11. Botany Of, relating to, or derived from a primary meristem.
n. pl. pri·mar·ies
a. One that is first in time, order, or sequence.
b. One that is first or best in degree, quality, or importance.
c. One that is fundamental, basic, or elemental.
a. A meeting of the registered voters of a political party for the purpose of nominating candidates and for choosing delegates to their party convention.
b. A preliminary election in which the registered voters of a political party nominate candidates for office.
3. A primary color.
4. A primary flight feather.
5. Electronics An inducting current, circuit, or coil.
6. Astronomy
a. A celestial body, especially a star, relative to other bodies in orbit around it.
b. The brighter of two stars that make up a binary star.

[Middle English, from Latin prīmārius, chief, from prīmus, first; see per1 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.