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Precedent vs. President (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use precedent vs. president with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Can a new president set a new precedent? Can a new precedent involve a new president? I suppose the answer is yes to both questions, but I imagine we need to clarify what each word means before the questions and answers make sense.

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So let's look at the differences of precedent and president, including a few examples of correct usages.

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Precedent vs. President

Precedent is mostly used as a noun to indicate something that has happened before, whether exactly the same or in a similar way. For instance, there is a precedent of someone making a free throw shot in basketball, but there may not be a precedent of someone making 10,000 consecutive free throw shots.

Another slightly different meaning of precedent as a noun is that a precedent may be the model for something. Precedent can also be used as an adjective to describe something that happened earlier in time, order, or significance.

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President, on the other hand, is always a noun that signifies the top leader in a government or organization. For instance, the United States will inaugurate a new president today in Joseph Biden. But there are also presidents of corporations, sports teams, and secret societies.

Make sense?

Here are some examples:

Correct: The precedent of doing the dishes at night was set years ago and continues to this very day.
Incorrect: The president of doing the dishes at night was set years ago and continues to this very day.

Correct: The president of the baseball team helped select the new general manager and manager.
Incorrect: The precedent of the baseball team helped select the new general manager and manager.

Correct: The president followed precedent by continuing end-of-year bonuses to all employees.

Here's the trick I use for these two words: Precedent has the word "precede" in it, which itself means "earlier than." But also, the "i" in president makes me think of one leader above the others. Keep both tricks in mind, and I'm sure you'll keep these words straight moving forward.

And be sure to check out all the latest grammar rules here or these posts from 2021:

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Grammar and Mechanics

No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

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