To say a man is close to a primate, what should I use, "primatic" or "primative"?

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    Primatial is the word you're looking for, I believe, or else I'm a monkey's uncle. – J.R. Jul 31 '12 at 0:46
  • Does this adjective mean belonging to the primates or primate-like? – Anixx Jul 31 '12 at 1:17
  • Usually for adjectives like this, it can mean either. – Peter Shor Jul 31 '12 at 1:20
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    Man is not close to a primate; man is a primate. – John Lawler Jul 31 '12 at 3:05
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    Please show what research you have done in trying to find an answer to your questions. – Matt E. Эллен Jul 31 '12 at 9:57

Primate as an adjective is a “rare and obsolete” word meaning, per the OED:

† B. adj. First, earliest. Obs. rare.

  • 1554-9 Songs & Ball. (1860) 5 ― The gates infernall, Wheryn ower primat parent had closyd us.

  • 1580 Hollyband Treas. Fr. Tong, ― Premier, first or primate.

You don’t want primate as an adjective, I’m sure you’ll agree.

However, you may use the noun primate attributively, in which case it has the normal sense:

4. Zool. (Usually with pronunciation /ˈpraɪmeɪt/.) A mammal belonging to the order Primates, which includes man, apes, monkeys, and several groups of prosimians. Also attrib.

And here are two of the attributive citations:

  • 1967 J. R. & P. H. Napier Handbk. Living Primates p. v, ― Animal behaviour, ecology and genetic biology··today dominate basic research trends in primate biology.
  • 1977 Rainier III & Bourne Primate Conservation p. xviii, ― All authors of this book agreed that the royalties earned should be used to further primate conservation.

In “primate biology” and “primate conservation”, the word primate is not an adjective, because you do not need one; it is a noun used attributively in a noun–noun compound. That does not make it an adjective, but that’s perfectly fine.

The catarrhine apes do not include all primates; it excludes the lemurs and such.

The adjectival form for primate in that sense is primatal, per the OED. About primatial it says that it has two sense, the first being related to the princes of the church, and the second being:

  • 2. Zool. Of or pertaining to the mammalian order Primates: more properly primatal.

Perhaps you would like to use the adjective primatal:

priˈmatal, a. (sb.) Zool. rare.

Of or pertaining to the order Primates. Also as sb., An animal of this order.

  • 1870 Cobbold in Athenæum 8 Oct. 468/2 ― It was··held that either of these groups, as we now know them, might have been separately evolved from more generalized primatal types··. The assumedly missing tertiary primatals constituted a great and natural bar to the popular acceptance of the theory of descent by natural selection.

It is, however rare. I would use the attributive noun instead.

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  • Can you say "This man is primatial"? Or "she likes primatial men"? – Anixx Jul 31 '12 at 1:36
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    @Anixx If she likes primatial men, she is a weirdo who goes for celibates in red frocks. Primatial is “more properly primatal”. The other sense is about the Catholic Church. But just use primate as an attributive noun. I don’t think that male primates and primate men are necessarily the same thing. – tchrist Jul 31 '12 at 1:38
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    @Anixx No, you can't say the 'primatial man' at least not at all to refer to a man that has the characteristics of an ape. 'Primatial' is entirely used (and is not uncommon) in the Catholic church. But 'the primatial man' for some one who is like a (Catholic position of) primate would sound strange. You'd say 'That man is like a (Catholic) primate'. – Mitch Jul 31 '12 at 13:10
  • Tchrist, thank you for your as usual great scholarship, but I just want to help emphasize something for the OP. Whatever you call it, an adjective or an attributive noun, what you want to say is 'The man is ape-like' or 'the man is 'simian'. 'The man is a primate' (it has to be noun here, it can't act like an adjective (that is not using the article). – Mitch Jul 31 '12 at 13:19
  • I just stumbled across a contemporary use of "primate" as an adjective which is new to me. From Wikipedia: "A primate city is the largest city in its country, province, state, or region, disproportionately larger than any others in the urban hierarchy". – skomisa Apr 26 at 2:15

You really do not want to use either 'primatic' or 'primative' (as they are not recognized suffixed extensions of 'primate'). Also, 'primatial' mean something else (something specific to the Catholic church). And 'primatal' is just not used at all. 'Primitive' is a very good English word but means 'basic' and has nothing to do with apes.

Interestingly, the formal adjective form of the noun 'primate' is:


as in 'Primate mating behavior is much more varied than that of other mammals.'. But you cannot say 'That man is primate'.

The analogous literary to feline, canine, porcine is


as in 'The detective had simian features, a large brow, hair down his back...' or 'That man is simian.' .

Informally, there really is no appropriate cognate word, and the best way to say it would be


as in 'The ape-like man crushed the bottle with his bare hands.' or 'That man is ape-like.' .

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    Could be, but doesn't that link not show primate as an adjective? It appears to say the adjectival form is primatial. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jul 31 '12 at 0:55
  • Strange, other references say "primatial", not primate as you say. -1 – user19148 Jul 31 '12 at 0:56
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    They definitely have different meaning. I cannot say "it is a primate man", but I can say "it is primate milk". – Anixx Jul 31 '12 at 1:11
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    No Mitch. The adjective primate means something else. It’s an attributive noun that you’re thinking of. The adjectival form is actually the rare primatal, which nobody uses. – tchrist Jul 31 '12 at 1:20
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    @J.R. In primate brain, the word primate is an attributive noun, not an adjective. Not all noun modifiers are adjectives. – tchrist Jul 31 '12 at 1:36

If none of the previous suggestions work for you, consider the adjective catarrhine, "Describing the Catarrhini parvorder of primates (including humans) that have nostrils that are close together and directed frontward or downward". By the way, to "say a man is close to a primate" is to make a statement about one person. To speak of everyone, say something like "Humans are primates."

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    Pity the poor, excluded lemurs. – tchrist Jul 31 '12 at 1:27

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