Definition of primitive in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈprɪmɪtɪv/


1Relating to, denoting, or preserving the character of an early stage in the evolutionary or historical development of something: primitive mammals Primitive Germanic
More example sentences
  • Proponents of the multiregional theory consider Neanderthals as an earlier primitive stage in the development of modern Europeans.
  • These characteristics of B. bahloi are expected to be found in the ancestor of B. attenuatus, since they represent a more primitive evolutionary stage.
  • Some social theorists such as Marx viewed slavery as a necessary but primitive stage in the evolution of human institutions despite it being inherently wasteful and inefficient.
ancient, earliest, first, prehistoric, antediluvian, antique, primordial, primeval, primal, primary, lower, original, proto-, ur-;
aboriginal, indigenous
rare autochthonous, autochthonic, primigenial
1.1Relating to or denoting a preliterate, non-industrial society or culture characterized by simple social and economic organization: primitive people
More example sentences
  • Ethnic groups are not primitive social organizations on an evolutionary march to civilization.
  • We can read with interest about primitive pre-literate cultures and the amazing memories these people have for landforms or for stories and songs.
  • These tribes brought with them primitive religious and cultural practices, such as the east Asian religion of shamanism.
preliterate, non-industrial;
simple, unsophisticated
1.2(Of behaviour or emotion) apparently originating in unconscious needs or desires and unaffected by objective reasoning: the primitive responses we share with many animals
More example sentences
  • She discovered that I didn't revert to ballet steps, but with primitive glee made wild, exuberant jumps when we danced to Offenbach's Gaite Parisienne.
  • And the raw primitive hope was crushed to produce an equally raw and primitive anger.
  • The evolutionarily primitive aspect of emotion helps to explain its power to disrupt thinking.
1.3Of or denoting a simple, naive style of art that deliberately rejects sophisticated artistic techniques: the Fauves saw primitive art as a liberating force
More example sentences
  • His book They Taught Themselves chronicled the creative lives of a number of amateur artists whose primitive and naive styles appealed to his modernist eye.
  • Matisse was not one to rest on his laurels, and he continued studying various styles including primitive art, and the work of painters in other disciplines.
  • These two sources - Cézanne and primitive art - were of great importance in the genesis of Cubism.
simple, natural, unsophisticated, naive, unaffected, undeveloped, childlike, innocent, artless, unpretentious;
untaught, untrained, untutored
2Very basic or unsophisticated in terms of comfort, convenience, or efficiency: the accommodation at the camp was a bit primitive
More example sentences
  • The path was in many places a primitive stairway, or crude stepladder, at first through a jungle, and later up a very steep, grass-covered slope.
  • At the time of his marriage in May of 1747 Hamilton had struggled for almost eight years to create a comfortable niche in a primitive New World environment.
  • You must be prepared to leave the comfort of your home for a more primitive place in the country many miles away at which you will live and work for two months.
crude, simple, rough, basic, elementary, rough-hewn, rudimentary, undeveloped, unrefined, unsophisticated, rude, rough and ready, makeshift;
old-fashioned, obsolete, archaic
3Not developed or derived from anything else: primitive material of the universe
More example sentences
  • Comets represent fragments of primitive material from the outer Solar System in the same way that asteroids represent fragments of material from the inner Solar System.
  • And the preliminary measurements confirmed our suspicions that it is unusually rich in very, very old and primitive material.
  • Many are made of primitive materials, such as rocky minerals and flecks of metal, from which it is believed the planets were made.
3.1 Linguistics Denoting a word, base, or root from which another is historically derived.
Example sentences
  • Hands evolved to lift, heft, and hurl stones (such hard, straight, primitive words those three, clearly made for use with stones).
  • Nouns fall into three major groups: the basic or "primitive" nouns, noun compounds, and nouns formed from verbs.
  • And yet any sort of ignorance of first or primitive names involves an ignorance of secondary words; for they can only be explained by the primary.
3.2 Mathematics (Of an algebraic or geometric expression) from which another is derived, or which is not itself derived from another.
Example sentences
  • He studied primitive permutation groups and proved a finiteness theorem.
  • In a series of articles, beginning in 1934, Péter developed various deep theorems about primitive recursive functions, most of them with an explicit algorithmic content.
  • The following are a few examples showing that addition, multiplication, and exponentiation are primitive recursive.
4 Biology (Of a part or structure) in the first or early stage of formation or growth; rudimentary. See also primitive streak.
Example sentences
  • The tumor occurs near the coccyx, where the greatest concentration of primitive cells exists for the longest period of time during development.
  • Recent demonstration of the ability of primitive cells to mobilize and home to the infarcted heart have raised the possibility that undifferentiated cells may translocate from the recipient to the graft, contributing to ventricular remodeling.


1A person belonging to a preliterate, non-industrial society: reports of travellers and missionaries described contemporary primitives
More example sentences
  • The difficulty with this strategy was that it tended to provide ample room for the reproduction of stereotypical views regarding the barbarism of the primitive.
  • An aboriginal group of primitives known as the Mud People is about to perform a ritual execution of one of their own when a peculiar object appears in their midst: a croquet ball.
  • Because of the harsh cold weather, the once theorized Bering Strait that was thought to have frozen over to allow the primitives to cross to North America, was now again solidly frozen.
2A pre-Renaissance painter, or one who imitates the pre-Renaissance style.
Example sentences
  • Theirs was no retrograde revival of past styles, but a reworking of Giotto and the Italian primitives through a modernist lens, specifically, the ironic classicism of Giorgio de Chirico.
  • He reacted intensely to the experience of his Italian visits, the first in 1883, becoming a lifelong admirer of the Italian primitives.
  • This rigorous preparation helps explain her meticulous style; equally important were the influences encountered in the Prado Museum, especially Northern and Italian primitives and Spanish masters.
2.1An artist deliberately employing a simple, naive style: the Catalan primitives
More example sentences
  • At the same time, he was a self-taught, strongly independent painter who considered himself a primitive.
  • In its infancy, Pyat explains, the modern community of painters comprised a small group of heroic primitives, drawn together by their common devotion to their craft but polarized by rivalry and ambition.
2.2A painting by a primitive artist, or an object in a primitive style: Santa Fe style antiques and Mexican primitives Ohio primitives such as treenware utensils
More example sentences
  • Ironically, he had purchased some of the twenty primitives in the group from the Downtown Gallery.
  • Paul Gauguin's primitive was not Pablo Picasso's, and - despite their mutual reliance on West Mexican grave goods as source materials - Kahlua's primitives were not Kahlo's.
  • From the caves of Lascaux to the clay or stone figures made by primitives and modernists, animal likenesses or essences have abounded in humankind's representational practices.
3 Linguistics A word, base, or root from which another is historically derived.
Example sentences
  • And although one should be cautious about saying that there is a simple list of semantical primitives, it does seem reasonable to maintain that Aristotelians had unearthed most of the major ones.
  • Thus, if we were to break down nouns such as man and woman, boy and girl into their semantic primitives, we would analyse them as shown in Table 4.2.
  • In Anna Wierzbicka's 1972 book Semantic Primitives, only 14 semantic primitives were proposed and in her 1980 book Lingua Mentalis, the inventory was not much bigger.
3.1 Mathematics An algebraic or geometric expression from which another is derived; a curve of which another is the polar or reciprocal.
Example sentences
  • Frege asked about Hilbert's claim that his axiomatization provides definitions of the primitives of geometry, so that the very same sentences serve as axioms and definition.
  • Typically such instructions are combined and used in an iterative block cipher, a cryptosystem that operates on a block of data and sequentially repeats a set of primitives; each repetition is a round of the function.
  • Any Pythagorean triangle is either primitive or a multiple of a primitive and this is shown in the table above.
3.2 Computing Any of a set of basic geometric shapes which may be generated in computer graphics: the program includes a complete set of drawing primitives
More example sentences
  • The objects you need to use to create the final shape are geometric primitives, and they all are sitting at the top left.
  • Data such as pixels, geometric primitives or even scene graph data is passed among the nodes.
  • A game designer uses OpenGL to describe what to draw as a set of graphics primitives (shapes in space) and texture maps (images).



Pronunciation: /ˈprɪmɪtɪvli/
Example sentences
  • The islanders were tolerant but very primitively rural.
  • It depicts Adam and Eve, primitively dressed in animal furs and skins, tending their children and engaged in their separate, gender-specific labors: Adam digs with a spade, while Eve manufactures yarn by means of a drop spindle.
  • These pathways are shared by all living things, at least primitively, with few exceptions, and discussion of secondary losses in some species or species groups is beyond the scope of the present work.


Pronunciation: /ˈprɪmɪtɪvnəs/
Example sentences
  • Much as many paleoanthropologists like to think of our evolution as a linear process, a gradual progression from primitiveness to perfection, this conceptual hold-over from the past is clearly in error.
  • ‘We, the people of Etropole, want to preserve the natural primitiveness of the place,’ said the woman who still goes hiking in the mountain and uses a bicycle as a means of transportation.
  • That's part of the charm of the record, this very primitiveness of instrumentation and melody - as though we are looking in on something that isn't quite ready to be shown to the public yet, or was never even intended for it.


Late Middle English (in the sense 'original, not derivative'): from Old French primitif, -ive, from Latin primitivus 'first of its kind', from primus 'first'.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: primi|tive

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