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an·​te·​ced·​ent ˌan-tə-ˈsē-dᵊnt How to pronounce antecedent (audio)
plural antecedents
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
: a preceding event, condition, or cause
events that were antecedents of the war
antecedents plural : the significant events, conditions, and traits of one's earlier life
: predecessor
especially : a model or stimulus for later developments
The sackbut was the antecedent of the trombone.
antecedents plural : ancestors, parents
He was proud of his Scottish antecedents.
: the conditional element in a proposition (such as if A in "if A, then B")
mathematics : the first term of a mathematical ratio


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: prior
antecedent events
antecedently adverb

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.).

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

Example Sentences

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.
Recent Examples on the Web
There are concerns that the hot, dry atmosphere, combined with parched antecedent conditions, could support the risk of wildfire. Matthew Cappucci,, 9 Aug. 2022 There is no mythical antecedent to David smugly carrying his beer gut like a womb. New York Times, 5 Aug. 2022 Joke’s on me — there is no reference point, no explicit antecedent. Murray Whyte,, 18 Aug. 2022 Now, with the good wishes of all estates, Mr. Rankin has completed the work of his esteemed antecedent. Tom Nolan, WSJ, 29 July 2022 The look maintains its antecedent’s simple shapes but replaces the restrained palette of neutrals and natural wood with pastels. Dale Hrabi And Nina Molina, WSJ, 4 Aug. 2022 Stadler was a master of the clarinet and basset horn — an early antecedent of the modern clarinet — and was a co-inventor of the basset clarinet, the instrument for which Mozart originally wrote his concerto. Lukas Schulze, San Diego Union-Tribune, 13 June 2022 Such a censure would be an extraordinary measure against a religious leader, its closest antecedent perhaps being the sanctions the United States leveled against Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. New York Times, 21 May 2022 The sequel is a more explicit künstlerroman than its antecedent. Jennifer Wilson, The Atlantic, 19 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

Word History


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

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near antecedent

Cite this Entry

“Antecedent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition

antecedent 1 of 2


an·​te·​ced·​ent ˌant-ə-ˈsēd-ənt How to pronounce antecedent (audio)
: a noun, pronoun, phrase, or clause referred to by a pronoun
in "the house that we live in," "house" is the antecedent of "that"
: an event or cause coming before something
plural : one's ancestors or parents


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: coming earlier in time or order
antecedently adverb

Legal Definition



: earlier in time or order

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