I'm familiar with the legal meaning of precedent: an event A which sets an example for future similar events A', A*, etc.

However, precede means 'to come before' (e.g. event A preceded event B, a separate event), and so it seems to me that precedent is a natural nominalisation of the verb. Other similar nominalisations include adjust to adjustment and oxidise to oxidant (if you can think of any better examples please let me know!).

In sum, would it be correct/reasonable to use precedent to describe any event that precedes another - if if they are completely different events?

1 Answer 1


While "precedent" is an adjective meaning "preceding", the noun form "precedent" is not used for unrelated events: that's not what the word is taken to mean.

For example, while the Big Bang that started our universe preceded the outbreak of World War II, it is not a precedent to that war.

[M-W precedent][1]
1: an earlier occurrence of something similar
2a: something done or said that may serve as an example or rule to authorize or justify a subsequent act of the same or an analogous kind a verdict that had no precedent
b: the convention established by such a precedent or by long practice
3: a person or thing that serves as a model

As can be seen from the noun definitions, some comparability between a precedent and an ensuing event must exist.
[1]: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/precedent

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