The Meaning of De Novo: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of de novo? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word de novo, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the term de novo mean?

According to Biology Online, the term de novo is both an adverb and an adjective. This Latin expression is used as an adv. to signal that something is starting over at the beginning again. As an adj. the term de novo refers to something that is just beginning, or was not present previously. This is a Latin phrase meaning “from the new” from the Latin adverb dē novō, in which de means from and novo means new. This is used in fairly specific settings and is rarely used in casual English on an everyday basis. If you are struggling, try just using the phrase “like new” or “anew” instead to eliminate confusion.

This term is used in biology and the medical field to describe a process or entity that has started over. In one example, de novo synthesis is a process in biochemistry in which the formation of the various complex biomolecules from simple molecules or precursors via a certain biochemical pathway occurs. Therefore, they have been produced in the organism “anew.” In bioinformatics, de novo peptide sequencing refers to a certain form of sequencing with regard to the synthesis of complex molecules from simple molecules. Labs are trying to gain greater accuracy by determining how to distinguish the location of leucine and isoleucine. The term de novo mutation is used in genetics that refers to a form of a genetic mutation that occurs for the first time in a family member. This mutation, such as a deletion, could occur inside a germ cell in a parent’s sperm or a mutated gene in a fertilized egg. These mutations increase the variation of the gene pool and the inheritance of new traits leads to greater diversity. According to The Free Dictionary, the term de novo can also refer to de novo SUI, or de novo stress urinary incontinence. It could also refer to a de novo kidney transplantation, or de novo prediction of three-dimensional structures for major protein families. 

The term de novo is also used in law. According to Cornell, when a court hears a case de novo, this means that it has to decide the issues with no previous reference to a legal conclusion or assumption by a previous court. In an appellate court hears a case de novo, they may refer to a lower court’s record to get a handle on the facts of the case, but they will end up making a rule on the evidence and legal matters without deferring to the findings or opinion of the previous court. A trial court is also able to hear a case de novo when it follows the appeal of an arbitration decision. A de novo review can also occur when a court makes the decision on an issue without deferring to a previous court’s decision. Finally, trial de novo occurs when a court decides on all of the issues in one case as if it was heard for the first time. Generally, this judicial review, though being heard for the second time, is treated in the proceedings by the reviewing court like it is happening for the first time. If there are questions of fact or facts of a case they can refer to consideration of previous instances, but overall, it is the trial court’s determination and judgment at the end of the day during a de novo review of legal matters. The trial court’s decision may encompass gathering legal advice or statements from an attorney, or using other legal resources.

What are synonyms for de novo?

Since there are so many different specific ways to use de novo, in general settings it is best to use the word new or a synonym for the word new. Synonyms are words and phrases that have the same definition as another given word or phrase. These are useful to know if you are trying to expand your English vocabulary or if you are trying not to repeat yourself. This list of synonyms of new is provided by Power Thesaurus.

  •  unaccustomed
  •  up to date
  •  immature
  •  untried
  •  freshly
  •  fresh
  •  more
  •  all the rage
  •  current
  •  latest
  •  unprecedented
  •  supplementary
  •  avant-garde
  •  afresh
  •  innovative
  •  late
  •  green
  •  extra
  •  brand new
  •  up-to-date
  •  modern
  •  state-of-the-art
  •  recently
  •  added
  •  unused
  •  further
  •  up-to-the-minute
  •  renewed
  •  contemporary
  •  novel
  •  advanced
  •  young
  •  unfamiliar
  •  newfangled
  •  recent
  •  regenerated
  •  additional
  •  other
  •  unknown
  •  unseasoned
  •  inexperienced
  •  different
  •  newly
  •  original
  •  unspoiled
  •  untrained
  •  present-day
  •  raw
  •  lately
  •  strange

There are also many different words that mean the opposite of the word new. These are called antonyms, which are another quick and easy way to expand your English language vocabulary. This list of antonyms of new is also provided by Power Thesaurus.

  •  old
  •  past
  •  grey
  •  old-world
  •  familiar
  •  outworn
  •  aged
  •  prehistoric
  •  gray
  •  age-old
  •  former
  •  accustomed
  •  famous
  •  boring
  •  musty
  •  ancient
  •  experienced
  •  ragged
  •  oldfangled
  •  outdated
  •  moth-eaten
  •  old-time
  •  unoriginal
  •  tatty
  •  used
  •  archaic
  •  outmoded
  •  tattered
  •  worn
  •  shabby
  •  vintage
  •  antediluvian
  •  tired
  •  immemorial
  •  aforementioned
  •  fusty
  •  old-fashioned
  •  antique
  •  bygone
  •  hackneyed
  •  conventional
  •  frayed
  •  traditional
  •  antiquated
  •  obsolete
  •  out-of-date
  •  well-versed
  •  stale
  •  legacy
  •  dated

Overall, the term de novo means “from the new” in Latin. This usually refers to a new trial in law, but it also has many different medical variants.  While there are variants on this term, once all you can think of it as being “like new.” You can try making flashcards to memorize this word’s definition. 


  1. De novo legal definition of de novo | The Free Dictionary 
  2. De novo – Definition and Examples | Biology Online 
  3. De Novo | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute | Cornell 
  4. New synonyms – 1 696 Words and Phrases for New | Power Thesaurus 
  5. New antonyms – 1 854 Opposites of New | Power Thesaurus