Simplified Rules of Order

How Motions are Classified

For convenience, motions can be classified into five groups:


1. main motions

2. subsidiary motions   }

3. privileged motions    }known as secondary motions

4. incidental motions   }

5. motions that bring a question again before a meeting

The motions in the second, third and fourth classes (subsidiary, privileged and incidental motions) are often called secondary motions, to distinguish them from main motions.

Secondary motions are ones that are in order when a main motion is being debated; ones that assist a meeting to deal with the main motion.

Before examining each of the five types of motions, one should understand the concept of order of precedence of motions. This concept is based on the principle that a meeting can deal with only one question at a time. Once a motion is before a meeting, it must be adopted or rejected by a vote, or the meeting must dispose of the question in some other way, before any other business can be introduced. Under this principle, a main motion can be made only when no other motion is pending. However, a meeting can deal with a main motion in several ways other than just passing or defeating it. These other ways are the purpose of the various secondary motions, the motions in categories two, three and four of the five categories of motions listed above.

The rules under which secondary motions take precedence over one another have evolved gradually through experience. If two motions, A and B, are related in such a way that motion B can be made while motion A is pending, motion B takes precedence over motion A and motion A yields to motion B.

A secondary motion thus takes precedence over a main motion; a main motion takes precedence over nothing, yielding to all secondary motions. When a secondary motion is placed before a meeting, it becomes the immediately pending question; the main motion remains pending while the secondary motion is dealt with.

Certain secondary motions also take precedence over others, so that it is possible for more than one secondary motion to be pending at any one time (together with the main motion). In such a case, the motion most recently accepted by the chair is the immediately pending question--that is, it takes precedence over all the others.

The main motion, the subsidiary motions, and the privileged motions fall into a definite order of precedence, which gives a particular rank to each. The main motion--which does not take precedence over anything--ranks lowest. Each of the other motions has its proper position in the rank order, taking precedence over the motions that rank below and yielding to those that rank above it.

For ease of reference, the order of precedence can be viewed in tabular form.

When a motion is on the floor, a motion of higher precedence may be proposed, but no motion of lower precedence is in order.

At any given time there can be pending only one motion of any one rank. This means that other motions proposed during consideration of a motion can be accepted by the chair only if they are of higher precedence. In voting, the meeting proceeds with the various motions in inverse order--the last one proposed, being of highest precedence, is the first one to be decided.

It should be noted that "precedence" and "importance" are not synonyms. Indeed, the most important motion--the main motion--is the lowest in precedence.

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Last changed: 10/08/2002
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