AskDefine | Define major

Dictionary Definition

major adj
1 of greater importance or stature or rank; "a major artist"; "a major role"; "major highways" [ant: minor]
2 greater in scope or effect; "a major contribution"; "a major improvement"; "a major break with tradition"; "a major misunderstanding" [ant: minor]
3 greater in number or size or amount; "a major portion (a majority) of the population"; "Ursa Major"; "a major portion of the winnings" [ant: minor]
4 of the field of academic study in which one concentrates or specializes; "his major field was mathematics" [ant: minor]
5 of a scale or mode; "major scales"; "the key of D major" [ant: minor]
6 of greater seriousness or danger; "a major earthquake"; "a major hurricane"; "a major illness" [ant: minor]
7 of full legal age; "major children" [ant: minor]
8 of the elder of two boys with the same family name; "Jones major" [syn: major(ip)]


1 a commissioned military officer in the United States Army or Air Force or Marines; below lieutenant colonel and above captain
2 British statesman who was prime minister from 1990 until 1997 (born in 1943) [syn: John Major, John R. Major, John Roy Major]
3 a university student who is studying a particular field as the principal subject; "she is a linguistics major"
4 the principal field of study of a student at a university; "her major is linguistics" v : have as one's principal field of study; "She is majoring in linguistics"

User Contributed Dictionary



Etymology 1

From major


, or, when used as a title before a person's name, Major
  1. A military rank between captain and lieutenant-colonel.
    • He used to be a major in the army.
    • This is Major Jones.
  2. A person of legal age.
A military rank
A person of legal age
The main area of study
A student at a college or university concentrating on a given area of study
Related terms

Etymology 2

major, from maior, comparative of magnus, from Proto-Indo-European *maǵ-yes- "greater", comparative of *maǵ-, *meǵ-, "great".


  1. Of great significance or importance.
  2. Being the larger of two intervals denoted by the same ordinal number.
  3. Containing the note which is a major third (four half steps) above the tonic.
Derived terms


  1. The main area of study of a student working toward a degree at a college or university.
    • Midway through his second year of college, he still hadn't chosen a major.
  2. A student at a college or university concentrating on a given area of study.
    • She is a math major.


  1. To concentrate on a particular area of study as a student in a college or university.
    • I have decided to major in mathematics.
Translations to be checked



Short form of sergent-major.


fr-noun m


orthographic variant of maior

Extensive Definition

Major is a military rank the use of which varies according to country. Moreover, Major frequently denotes a mid-level command status officer (immediately superior to the rank of Captain and immediately subordinate to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel), however in some armies major is essentially a senior NCO (non-commissioned officer), a usage derived from "sergeant-major".

Early history

In considering terms of rank it is important to understand that the early evolution of the terms often was outside of English, and that the term always has been of essentially international distribution. In general European usage, the rank of Major originates from Romance comparative adjectives with the sense of Latin maior (also spelled major), meaning 'senior' and 'greater'. Historically all Majors, Sergeants Major, and Major Generals (to use English forms) derive from the rank, or rather the office of Sergeant Major. The Sergeant Major was the senior sergeant responsible for marshalling a battalion of pike. He was presumably the senior Company Sergeant from among the companies providing the pikemen, or at least a commissioned officer considered analogous to such a non-commissioned officer (sergeant). Hence, Major is an abbreviation of Sergeant Major: the (Sergeant) Major 'the senior sergeant'. This is obscured in French and English, by the later evolution of a separate, non-commissioned rank called sergent major or Sergeant Major. Similarly, the rank of Major General is truncated from original Sergeant Major General 'the sergeant major or sergeant major-like soldier with general authority over the marshalling of the whole army'. Originally, there existed a single Sergeant Major General in each major field force.
The original usage is illustrated in the first recorded(?) English (1643) attestation, as "Sergeant-Major", 'the third-in-command of a regiment'. The early German equivalent was Feld Wachtmeister, in which Feld functions as major and Wachtmeister ('watch master' or 'quarter[-ing] master') is the more commonly used term for a cavalry sergeant. Similarly we early on find Spanish Majors referred to Sargento Major.
In several European navies, the rank of Major was used in the sense or form "Pilot-Major" to denote the senior deck officer of a vessel in contrast to the Captain (or Captain General) who was typically an Army officer, with little naval knowledge, assigned to command the mission on which a vessel was embarked. The English equivalent of this usage is Master, as opposed to the Captain or Commander.
In the Spanish navy of the 16th and 17th centuries, the captain's principal seaman was the "maestre" (master) who was responsible for the maritime operation of the ship. Next in the chain of command was the "piloto" (pilot) responsible for the safe navigation of the ship. A flagship's pilot was the "piloto mayor" (chief or major pilot) who determined the course of the whole squadron. [1]
NOTES: 1. "Spanish Galleon 1530-1690" by Angus Konstam, copyright 2004 Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Officer rank

In most comparative military scales a Major is a senior officer ranking above company grade ranks that usually include captain and between one and three lower subaltern officer ranks. In the NATO rank code, Major as a Level 3 officer. The naval equivalent to a Major is, in some nations, the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
By the time of the English Civil War, Major had become a rank in itself, and was assigned to mid-level officers on the battlefield, and was most often used by those serving as aides to a superior General.

Non-commissioned rank

In the French military, a major is the most senior non-commissioned rank. This rank can only be awarded by senior NCO (adjudants-chefs), after a very selective exam. Officially it is not a non-commissioned rank, but an intermediate rank between non-commissioned and commissioned.

Use as a suffix

The rank of Major may still be found in its original form as a suffix (either hyphenated or not), to denote an officer more senior to the base rank. As a suffix, major derives from a comparative adjective major 'greater' and 'senior' following the modified Romance language noun; e.g. Adjutant-Major, and Colonel-Major. It is also still commonly used in the rank of Sergeant Major, and is also used in ceremonial appointments such as Drum-Major and Pipe-Major.
In Argentina, the armed forces all use the rank of sub-officer-major as the highest non-commissioned rank. The army and air force also use the officer rank of major. The army has a rank of colonel-major, but this is essentially an automatic promotion for long-serving colonels rather than a functional rank in its own right. The Argentine National Gendarmerie uses the rank of commandant-major, which is roughly equivalent to a colonel or chief superintendent in the commonwealth.
It is similarly still used as a prefix for the General officer rank of Major-General, which is similarly used in many other languages (e.g. Generaal-Majoor in Dutch).

Links to Major ranks by country

Sources and references

major in Arabic: رائد (رتبة عسكرية)
major in Bengali: মেজর
major in Bosnian: Major
major in Czech: Major
major in Danish: Major
major in German: Major
major in Estonian: Major
major in Modern Greek (1453-): Ταγματάρχης
major in Spanish: Mayor
major in Esperanto: Majoro
major in French: Major
major in Croatian: Bojnik
major in Indonesian: Mayor
major in Italian: Maggiore
major in Javanese: Mayor
major in Lithuanian: Majoras
major in Dutch: Majoor
major in Japanese: 少佐
major in Norwegian: Major
major in Polish: Major
major in Portuguese: Major
major in Romanian: Maior (grad)
major in Russian: Майор
major in Slovenian: Major
major in Serbian: Мајор
major in Finnish: Majuri
major in Swedish: Major
major in Turkish: Binbaşı
major in Ukrainian: Майор
major in Urdu: اکبر (عہدہ)
major in Chinese: 少校

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

ADC, CO, OD, a cut above, above, academic specialty, adult, ahead, aide, aide-de-camp, area, ascendant, better, big, big-league, big-name, big-time, bigger, biggest, bigwig, bigwigged, brigadier, brigadier general, capital, capping, captain, chicken colonel, chief, chief of staff, chosen, classical education, cock, colonel, commandant, commander, commander in chief, commanding officer, commissioned officer, company officer, consequential, considerable, core curriculum, course, course of study, critical, crucial, curriculum, dangerous, discipline, distinguished, dominant, dominating, double-barreled, earthshaking, eclipsing, elder, eldest, elective, eminent, exceeding, excellent, excelling, exec, executive officer, extensive, fell, field, field marshal, field officer, finer, first lieutenant, first-born, firstling, five-star general, foremost, former, four-star general, general, general education, general officer, general studies, generalissimo, grand, grave, great, greater, grievous, grown man, grownup, heavyweight, hefty, high-powered, higher, humanities, important, in ascendancy, in the ascendant, jemadar, junior officer, key, key signature, keynote, large, large-scale, larger, legalis homo, liberal arts, lieutenant, lieutenant colonel, lieutenant general, main, major general, major key, man, marechal, marked, marshal, material, mature man, mediant, minor, momentous, name, no chicken, notable, noteworthy, of choice, officer, older, oldest, one up on, one-star general, orderly officer, outstanding, over, paramount, pedal point, predominant, preeminent, primary, prime, primogenitary, principal, proseminar, quadrivium, rare, refresher course, risaldar, rivaling, scientific education, self-important, seminar, senior, senior officer, serious, shavetail, significant, sirdar, sizable, specialty, staff officer, star, stellar, study, subahdar, subaltern, subdiscipline, subdominant, subject, sublieutenant, submediant, substantial, subtonic, super, superior, supertonic, surpassing, technical education, the Old Man, the brass, three-star general, tonality, tonic, tonic key, top brass, topping, transcendent, transcendental, transcending, trivium, two-star general, ugly, upper, vital, woman, world-shaking, worst
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