Difference Between Prior and Previous

Main Difference – Prior vs. Previous

Both words, Prior and Previous can be used as synonyms. However, some differences can be noticed between them depending on the contextual meaning. The main difference between prior and previous can be noted in the alternative meaning of prior where prior refers to the male head of a house or group of houses of certain religious orders.

Prior – Meaning and Usage

Prior has come in to use in the 18th century and it is derived from the Latin word prior meaning former or elderly. Prior means existing or coming before in time, order, or importance. Note that prior is more preferred in corporate writing, though it is synonymous with previous or former.

“I cannot come to the meeting as I have a prior engagement.”

“When he returned, he was reinstated to his prior position.”

“He received a lighter sentence as he had no prior records.”

We also use the phrase ‘prior to’ to indicate ‘before’.

“I visited my grandmother 2 days prior to her death.”

“Prior to the Renaissance, the human body was seen as a prison for the soul.”

Prior has another meaning. It also refers to the head of the house of friars or the man next in rank below an abbot.

“Taize is a celibate, monastic community of men living under a common rule with Brother Roger as prior.”

“Friaries were occupied by friars; abbeys were headed by abbots, priories by priors.”

Main Difference - prior vs previous

This is their last test match prior to the World Cup.

Previous – Meaning and Usage

Previous is derived from the Latin word ‘praevius’ meaning going before. This word came in to the English language in the early 17th century. It is an adjective that refers to existing or occurring before in time or order. In most instances, previous can be used synonymously with prior. However, prior has the meaning of coming or existence before in importance and this reference to importance is not present in previous. Previous sometimes also gives the connotation of preceding. For example if someone says previous meeting, we understand that he or she is referring to the last meeting. Observe the examples below to understand the usage of previous better.

We discussed this issue in the previous meeting.

The previous owners had painted the car tomato red.

He had two sons from his previous marriage.

I studied Japanese language in my previous school.difference between prior and previous

Difference Between Prior and Previous


Prior refers to existing or coming before in time, order, or importance.

Previous refers to existing or occurring before in time or order.

Alternative Meaning

Prior also indicates the male head of a house in a religious order.

Previous gives the connotation of preceding.


Prior is less frequently used when compared to previous, but, it is more used in corporate context.

Previous is more frequently used when compared to prior.

Informal Usage

Prior is used to refer to previous criminal convictions in Northern American.(informal)

Previous is used as a noun to refer to previous criminal convictions in British English. (informal)

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