an·​te·​ced·​ent | \ ˌan-tə-ˈsē-dᵊnt How to pronounce antecedent (audio) \
plural antecedents

Definition of antecedent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 grammar : a substantive word, phrase, or clause whose denotation is referred to by a pronoun that typically follows the substantive (such as John in "Mary saw John and called to him") broadly : a word or phrase replaced by a substitute
2a : a preceding event, condition, or cause events that were antecedents of the war
b antecedents plural : the significant events, conditions, and traits of one's earlier life
3a : predecessor especially : a model or stimulus for later developments The sackbut was the antecedent of the trombone.
b antecedents plural : ancestors, parents He was proud of his Scottish antecedents.
4 : the conditional element in a proposition (such as if A in "if A, then B")
5 mathematics : the first term of a mathematical ratio



Definition of antecedent (Entry 2 of 2)

: prior antecedent events

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Other Words from antecedent


antecedently adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for 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

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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.).

Examples of antecedent in a Sentence

Noun “John” is the antecedent of the pronoun “him” in “Mary saw John and thanked him.” what are the antecedents of the American Revolutionary War? Adjective I'd like to follow up on an antecedent question from another reporter.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Every bad team reminds one of a horrible team from another era, and in the case of the 2021 Cubs the most recent antecedent is the 1999 version that lost 95 games. Paul Sullivan,, 14 Aug. 2021 Trust is an important antecedent to engagement, and therefore very relevant to performance and work being done. Agnes Uhereczky, Forbes, 29 June 2021 While the health care plan stalled, the conservative tea party movement -- in many ways the antecedent of Trump's preponderantly White, non-urban political movement -- erupted in opposition to the proposal. Ronald Brownstein, CNN, 1 June 2021 In 1966, while Kirby was working at Marvel, a reporter named Nat Freedland penned an article about the company for New York’s antecedent, the Sunday magazine of the New York Herald-Tribune. Abraham Riesman, Vulture, 18 Mar. 2021 YouTube personality Doug DeMuro brought out his 2005 Ford GT to race its antecedent. Manuel Carrillo Iii, Robb Report, 9 Apr. 2021 The second is is the verb for the pronoun who, whose antecedent in this sentence is people. Richard Lederer, San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 Mar. 2021 King is well aware that the series’ antecedent is an uphill climb. Abraham Riesman, Vulture, 18 Mar. 2021 What is the antecedent to this entity that Moore, Olbermann, and Biden are referring to? Democrats? Isaac Schorr, National Review, 4 Mar. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'antecedent.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of antecedent


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for antecedent

Noun and Adjective

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

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Time Traveler for antecedent

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The first known use of antecedent was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

17 Aug 2021

Cite this Entry

“Antecedent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Sep. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of antecedent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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



English Language Learners Definition of antecedent (Entry 2 of 2)

: earlier in time


an·​te·​ce·​dent | \ ˌan-tə-ˈsēd-ᵊnt \

Legal Definition of antecedent

: earlier in time or order

More from Merriam-Webster on antecedent

Nglish: Translation of antecedent for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of antecedent for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about antecedent


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