Precedence of motions in Robert’s Rules of Order

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Cover of Roberts Rules of Order current edition - the only authorized version

Roberts Rules of Order current edition – the only authorized version

People are sometimes confused about precedence of motions in Robert’s Rules of Order. In essence it is rather simple. The principle is that each motion has a number or rank. When motions are pending, motions with a higher rank may be made, but motions with a lower rank are out of order (not allowed). The main motion has the lowest rank. It can be made only if there is no other motion pending (being discussed).

Suppose, for example, that we are discussing a motion to approve an Arts Festival next summer. Someone moves to postpone consideration to the next meeting in order to allow staff to provide more information. If another person then moves to amend the motion to hold the festival the year after, that amendment cannot be taken up. “Postpone to a definite time” has the rank of 5 and “amend” has the rank of 3. The amendment will have to wait until we get our hands back on the motion at the next meeting.

There are 13 motions with ranks. “Point of order” and “request for information” do not have ranks, but are dealt with immediately. Contrariwise, the “bring back” motions have no rank and can only be made if there is no other business on the table, no motions under consideration. There are other motions as well, but the ranking motions are the key ones to learn about.

The real skinny about precedence of motions in Robert’s Rules of Order

The truth about this system is that it isn’t difficult, it’s just a little strange. Someone who takes the time to learn about these ranks, and to apply them, will have greater success in dealing with board or council matters. Someone who yields to internal bafflement and avoids the entire subject will have less.

If you use another parliamentary authority, it will likely have the same order of ranks, since the system has been established for a long time as part of common parliamentary law and the system of parliamentary procedure.

Note also that the word is pronounced “pree-SEE-dence,” rather different from our usual pronunciation of “PREH-sih-dence.”

We invite you to download our “Motions Chart” below,  a PDF file that gives the key information on this topic in concise form. You can learn more about the most commonly used motions in our book, Mastering Council Meetings.

Download our Motions Chart here.


  1. Donna Cameron on August 12, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Ann, you make it all so clear! This is a great explanation of the precedence of motions. And I learned I’ve been pronouncing that word incorrectly as used for parliamentary procedure. Thanks for making learning so enjoyable!

  2. Ann Macfarlane on August 12, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Donna, that’s great to hear! Thanks for your kind words.

  3. Barbara Vasquez on August 26, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    Question along these same lines: If a motion was made to remove a parcel out of open space, and was seconded. Then the person who made the original motion asked to amend the motion and add a request to the assessor to not have the property owners pay back taxes and penalties. We now have the original motion and now an amended motion. Which gets addressed first?

    Thank you for your help!


    • Ann Macfarlane on August 26, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      Hi Barbara, the body addresses the amendment, request to assessor, and decides whether or not to add that request to the main motion. If it passes, the body then addresses the main motion “as amended,” that is, the original verbiage+amendment verbiage. After discussion the body will vote on approving or denying the main motion as amended.

      Anyone may move to amend the original motion (the person who made it or any other member). But the body as a whole has to decide about the amendment.

      Thanks for asking and good luck!

  4. Stanley Hersey on January 22, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Ann, If a board makes a motion at a general public board meeting to place an item on a ballot for members to vote on at an AGM, can that item be removed from the ballot buy the board without a motion in public session to reconsider the original motion? Would you be so kind to reference Roberts if possible for me. Thank You

    • Ann Macfarlane on January 22, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      Dear Stanley,
      Thank you for this inquiry. The answer will vary depending upon whether this is a public body, or a private board. I wonder how the board could have removed the item – was this perhaps done by individual persons, in which case it was not a board action? Or did the board meet privately? Ann

  5. Stanley Hersey on January 22, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    This is a private, the item in question was removed without the memberships knowledge, with no knowledge of a private board meeting. our bylaws state that all board meetings private or public be posted. It seems that maybe a few of the board members met to remove this.

    • Ann Macfarlane on January 22, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      On the face of it, Stanley, this is a complete violation of the ordinary rules of procedure. Action taken by a board cannot simply be undone by a few individuals. If this is the case, you really have a problem with board members acting outside their authority. A board can act only when it meets together, in a meeting properly noticed and called, with a quorum in attendance.