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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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web
This book is very much a domestic story of antecedents. Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, 18 June 2024 Small’s telling contains engaging anecdotes and the occasional digression to art historical antecedents—the evolution of photography and Donald Judd settling in Marfa—that provide obvious cultural references to anchor readers in this emergent technology. Charlotte Kent,, 13 June 2024
This season, the scandalous antecedent events of lust, love, and denial have caused a kingdom in chaos! Okla Jones, Essence, 9 Oct. 2023 Consider, first, that in an artificial system that rises to the level of consciousness, such as future iterations of GPT or LaMDA might become, this consciousness could not be the result of any slow evolutionary process with antecedent stages of mere sensory perception. Justin E. H. Smith, WIRED, 7 Mar. 2023 See all Example Sentences for antecedent 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'antecedent.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 24 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
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


2 of 2 adjective
: coming earlier in time or order
antecedently adverb

Legal Definition


: earlier in time or order

More from Merriam-Webster on antecedent

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