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Borrowed from the Latin terti?rius (of the third part or rank), from tertius (third) + -?rius (whence the English suffix -ary); compare the French tertiaire.


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /?t??.?i.?.?i?/
  • (General American) IPA(key): /?t?.?i.æ.?i/, /?t?.??.?i/
  • Hyphenation: ter?ti?a?ry


tertiary (not comparable)

  1. Of third rank or order; subsequent.
    • 1831, [Mary Shelley], chapter 2, in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (Standard Novels; no. 9), rev. and corr. edition, London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street; Edinburgh: Bell and Bradfute; Dublin: Cumming, ?OCLC; republished as Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books, November 1991, ?ISBN, page 25:
      An untaught peasant beheld the elements around him and was acquainted with their practical uses. The most learned philosopher knew little more. He had partially unveiled the face of Nature, but her immortal lineaments were still a wonder and a mystery. He might dissect, anatomize, and give names; but, not to speak of a final cause, causes in their secondary and tertiary grades were utterly unknown to him.
  2. (chemistry) Possessing some quality in the third degree; especially having been subjected to the substitution of three atoms or radicals.
  3. (ornithology) Of quills: growing on the innermost joint of a bird's wing; tertial.

Coordinate terms

Derived terms


See also

  • Appendix:English_ordinal_numbers
  • cubic


tertiary (plural tertiaries)

  1. Any item considered to be of third order.
  2. A tertiary colour.
  3. (geology) Something from the Tertiary Period (the former term for the geologic period from 65 million to 2.58 million years ago).
  4. (ornithology) A tertiary feather; a tertial.
  5. (military) A large stage in some extremely powerful thermonuclear weapons (resembling a greatly-enlarged secondary) which is compressed by the explosion of the secondary until ignition of nuclear fusion takes place, in much the same manner as the secondary is imploded by the primary, and which can allow for the attainment of yields of many tens or even hundreds of megatons, and likely even greater; not used in modern weapons due to a greater focus on the accurate use of sub-megaton weapons, the tremendous size of weapons incorporating a tertiary, and the lack of targets whose destruction would necessitate the use of a three-stage weapon.
  6. (Roman Catholicism) A member of a Roman Catholic third order; a layperson who participates in activities similar to those engaged in by men and women who take religious vows (respectively the first and second orders), and who may wear some elements of an order's habit such as a scapular.
    • 2008, Tamar Herzig, “The Power of Visions: Lucia Brocadelli and Osanna Andreasi”, in Savonarola’s Women: Visions and Reform in Renaissance Italy, Chicago, Ill.; London: University of Chicago Press, ?ISBN; large print edition, Richmond, B.C.: ReadHowYouWant.com Ltd., 2010, ?ISBN, page 146:
      Immediately after her arrival in Ferrara, while she was still striving to secure the foundation of her exemplary reformed community of Dominican tertiaries, [Lucia] Brocadelli also renewed her attempts to enhance [Girolamo] Savonarola's saintly reputation.


Further reading

  • third order on Wikipedia.Wikipedia

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