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noun an·te·ced·ent \ˌan-tə-ˈsē-dənt\

Simple Definition of antecedent

  • grammar : a word or phrase that is represented by another word (such as a pronoun)

  • : something that came before something else and may have influenced or caused it

  • antecedents : the people in a family who lived in past times

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of antecedent

  1. 1 :  a substantive word, phrase, or clause whose denotation is referred to by a pronoun (as John in “Mary saw John and called to him”); broadly :  a word or phrase replaced by a substitute

  2. 2 :  the conditional element in a proposition (as if A in “if A, then B”)

  3. 3 :  the first term of a mathematical ratio

  4. 4 a :  a preceding event, condition, or cause b plural :  the significant events, conditions, and traits of one's earlier life

  5. 5 a :  predecessor; especially :  a model or stimulus for later developments b plural :  ancestors, parents

Examples of antecedent in a sentence

  1. John is the antecedent of the pronoun him in Mary saw John and thanked him.

  2. <what are the antecedents of the American Revolutionary War?>

Did You Know?

A basic principle of clear writing is to keep your antecedents clear. Pronouns are often used in order not to repeat a noun (so instead of saying "Sheila turns 22 tomorrow, and Sheila is having a party", we replace the second "Sheila" with "she"). But sloppy writers sometimes leave their antecedents unclear (for instance, "Sheila helps Kathleen out, but she doesn't appreciate it", where it isn't clear who "she" is). Watch out for this possible problem when using not just he and she but also they, them, it, this, *and *that. And keep in mind that antecedent isn't just a grammar term. You may talk about the antecedents of heart disease (such as bad eating habits), the antecedents of World War II (such as the unwise Treaty of Versailles), and even your own antecedents (your mother, grandfather, etc.).

Origin and Etymology of antecedent

Middle English, from Medieval Latin & Latin; Medieval Latin antecedent-, antecedens, from Latin, what precedes, from neuter of antecedent-, antecedens, present participle of antecedere to go before, from ante- + cedere to go

First Known Use: 14th century

Other Grammar and Linguistics Terms



adjective an·te·ced·ent

Simple Definition of antecedent

  • : earlier in time

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of antecedent

  1. :  prior



Examples of antecedent in a sentence

  1. <I'd like to follow up on an antecedent question from another reporter.>

14th Century

First Known Use of antecedent

14th century

Synonym Discussion of antecedent

preceding, antecedent, foregoing, previous, prior, former, anterior mean being before. preceding usually implies being immediately before in time or in place <the preceding sentence>. antecedent applies to order in time and may suggest a causal relation <conditions antecedent to the revolution>. foregoing applies chiefly to statements <the foregoing remarks>. previous and prior imply existing or occurring earlier, but prior often adds an implication of greater importance <a child from a previous marriage> <a prior obligation>. former implies always a definite comparison or contrast with something that is latter <the former name of the company>. anterior applies to position before or ahead of usually in space, sometimes in time or order <the anterior lobe of the brain>.

Law Dictionary


adjective an·te·ce·dent \ˌan-tə-ˈsēd-ənt\

Legal Definition of antecedent

  1. :  earlier in time or order

Seen and Heard

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different from the usual or normal

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