a. Of or relating to an early or original stage or state; primeval: life in the primitive ocean.
b. Occurring in or characteristic of an early stage of development or evolution: fossils of primitive angiosperms from the Cretaceous Period.
c. Having developed early in the evolutionary history of a group: Hair is a primitive trait of mammals.
d. Regarded as having changed little in evolutionary history. Not in scientific use: The coelacanth is a primitive fish.
2. Characterized by simplicity or crudity; unsophisticated: primitive weapons.
3. Of or relating to a nonindustrial, often tribal culture, especially one that is characterized by an absence of literacy and a low level of economic or technological complexity: primitive societies.
4. Not derived from something else; primary or basic: "Conscious perception is ... the most primitive form of judgment" (Alfred North Whitehead).
a. Serving as the basis for derived or inflected forms: Pick is the primitive word from which picket is derived.
b. Being a protolanguage: primitive Germanic.
6. Not resulting from conscious thought or deliberation; unconscious or instinctual: primitive passions.
a. Of or created by an artist without formal training; simple or naive in style.
b. Of or relating to late medieval or pre-Renaissance European painters or sculptors.
1. A person belonging to a nonindustrial, often tribal society, especially a society characterized by a low level of economic or technological complexity.
2. Derogatory An unsophisticated or unintelligent person.
3. One that is at a low or early stage of development.
a. One belonging to an early stage in the development of an artistic trend, especially a painter of the pre-Renaissance period.
b. An artist having or affecting a simple, direct, unschooled style, as of painting.
c. A work of art created by a primitive artist.
a. A word or word element from which another word is derived by morphological or historical processes or from which inflected forms are derived.
b. A basic and indivisible unit of linguistic analysis. Also called prime.
6. Mathematics An algebraic or geometric expression from which another expression is derived.
7. Computers A basic or fundamental unit of machine instruction or translation.
[Middle English, from Old French primitif, primitive, from Latin prīmitīvus, from prīmitus, at first, from prīmus, first; see per1 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
primi·tive·ness, prim′i·tivi·ty n.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.