What's the difference between "define" and "predefine"? Is there really a value in using the latter over the former?

In a piece I'm editing, the writer says, "First, predefine the rules for what is a duplicate record…" Isn't the "pre" unneeded? Wouldn't it be better to say, "First, define the rules…"?

Is there way that "predefine" can be used that makes sense and is preferable to "define"?

  • Is predefine a word? It's gets the squiggly red underline in my browser. Merriam Webster barely lists it online, only under predefined. Is it British English? Collins states so.
    – zylstra
    Mar 24, 2020 at 17:53

2 Answers 2


Your context here ('First, ...') obviously makes 'define' the sensible choice. But in 'You need to define terms', there is the possibility of discussing terminology later in the proceedings. Which isn't really a sensible thing to do. So a temporal expression ('First,' / 'Before embarking on an analysis,') or 'predefine' adds the sensible caveat.


As a verb? No, they're essentially the same, albeit that predefine is very rarely used compared to define.

But as a past-tense adjective (predefined vs defined), 'predefined' implies instructions or a mold, or even predestination. It is a proactive adjective. At some point before the actual act, someone has already created rules for how the act will occur, whereas 'defined' implies a response or reaction. I see an anteater for the first time, and I describe it in terms of qualities and quantities. It is now defined.

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