Precedence, Precedents, and Presidents

Commonly Confused Words

George Washington's face on Mt. Rushmore
"I walk on untrodden ground," said the first U.S. president, George Washington. "There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.".

 Lonely Planet/Getty Images

The nouns precedence, precedents, and presidents are near-homophones: they are similar-sounding, but each word has a distinct meaning. 

Definitions and Pronunciations

The noun precedence means priority, the fact of occurring earlier in time, or a ceremonial order of rank.

The noun precedents is the plural of precedent--a thing done or said that can be used as a model or example.

Both precedence and precedents have an s sound at the start of the second syllable. Neither of these words should be confused with the noun presidents, which has a z sound at the start of the second syllable. Presidents is the plural of president: the head of a government or someone with the highest position in an organization.


  • "In an age when amassing 'likes' often takes precedence over reflecting on what is true and what is not, we need to keep in mind how others' lives are affected by the tales we tell." (Jennifer Hubert Swan, Review of The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller. The New York Times, February 12, 2016)
  • "A good deal of the social hierarchy in England was made explicit in the order of precedence, a more or less official ranking of honors, ranks, lineage, and occupational statuses in the kingdom." (Daniel Pool, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox . Touchstone, 1993)WhisttoHunting --the Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England
  • "In his speech the chairman said that, with the exception of Japan, there were no precedents to fall back on when considering the current recession." (Richard C. Koo, The Escape From Balance Sheet Recession and the QE Trap. Wiley, 2014)
  • "Microsoft has argued that it cannot turn over user e-mails to the government because the user owns those e-mails. Yet a long series of court precedents going back more than 40 years say that even custodians of a third party’s records—both physical and electronic—must hand those records over to federal investigators serving a valid warrant." (Adam Segal, "Does a U.S. Warrant Apply to Data Stored on a Foreign Server?" Newsweek, August 29, 2015)
  • "There has been some precedence for presidents' seeking a constitutional amendment for education. Both Thomas Jefferson and Ulysses Grant sought constitutional amendments for a national system of education, and, in recent times, Ronald Reagan sought a constitutional amendment to restore school prayer to the schools." (Maurice R. Berube, American . Greenwood, 1991)and EducationPresidents
  • "As the nation's first vice president, John Adams was aware that just as George Washington was setting presidential precedents with each act and gesture, so too was he establishing precedents for the nation's second-highest office." (Nick Ragone, Presidents' Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Extraordinary Executives. Potomac Books, 2008)


(a) In ancient societies, a sage took _____ over a king.

(b) President George Washington set important _____ for the executive branch of government.

(c) My relationships with my children always take _____ over work.

Answers to Practice Questions

(a) In ancient societies, a sage took precedence over a king.

(b) President George Washington set important precedents for the executive branch of government.

(c) My relationships with my children always take precedence over work.

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Precedence, Precedents, and Presidents." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Precedence, Precedents, and Presidents. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Precedence, Precedents, and Presidents." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).