pre·​cur·​sor | \ pri-ˈkər-sər How to pronounce precursor (audio) , ˈprē-ˌkər- How to pronounce precursor (audio) \

Definition of precursor

1a : one that precedes and indicates the approach of another
2 : a substance, cell, or cellular component from which another substance, cell, or cellular component is formed

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Other Words from precursor

precursory \ pri-​ˈkərs-​rē How to pronounce precursory (audio) , -​ˈkər-​sə-​ \ adjective

Choose the Right Synonym for precursor

forerunner, precursor, harbinger, herald mean one that goes before or announces the coming of another. forerunner is applicable to anything that serves as a sign or presage. the blockade was the forerunner of war precursor applies to a person or thing paving the way for the success or accomplishment of another. 18th century poets like Burns were precursors of the Romantics harbinger and herald both apply, chiefly figuratively, to one that proclaims or announces the coming or arrival of a notable event. their early victory was the harbinger of a winning season the herald of a new age in medicine

Precursor Has Latin Roots

With its prefix pre-, meaning "before", a precursor is literally a "forerunner", and in fact forerunner first appeared as the translation of the Latin praecursor. But the two words function a little differently today. A forerunner may simply come before another thing, but a precursor generally paves the way for something. So, for example, the Office of Strategic Services in World War II was the immediate precursor of today's Central Intelligence Agency, while the blues music of the 1930s and 1940s was only one of the precursors of the rock and roll of today.

Examples of precursor in a Sentence

18th-century lyric poets like Robert Burns were precursors of the Romantics a precursor of the modern eggplant
Recent Examples on the Web Other China observers see the actions against Australia as fitting into domestic efforts to assert control over information, and a potential precursor of what is to come for Beijing’s treatment of other nations. Rachel Pannett, WSJ, "Australian Reporters Flee China After Late-Night Visits From State Security," 8 Sep. 2020 Blackouts expected imminently: The California power grid has declared an emergency, the precursor to rolling blackouts. Chronicle Staff,, "California Wildfires: Live Updates Sept. 6-7," 8 Sep. 2020 The flakes out West may be a precursor to what could be a rough winter ahead. Fox News, "September snow in forecast for Denver, after 100-degree Labor Day weekend heatwave," 6 Sep. 2020 Richard Wright’s opus, Native Son, was a precursor to both Hansberry and Ellison, and laid the poor economic realities faced by African-Americans squarely at the door of American capitalism and racial violence. Tari Ngangura, Longreads, "A Lover’s Blues: The Unforgettable Voice of Margie Hendrix," 3 Sep. 2020 And what if that was just a precursor to something even more fantastic—being the first civilian to send himself more than 62 miles up to the edge of space? David Howard, Popular Mechanics, ""Mad Mike" Hughes Rejected Science and Chased Fame. It Killed Him.," 30 Aug. 2020 The next year, Black activist Claudia Jones organized a precursor to the carnival, a dance at St. Pancras town hall that raised money for the defense of those arrested in the turmoil., "London’s Notting Hill Carnival Moves Online Amid Drive for Social Justice," 28 Aug. 2020 In addition to deregulating methane, the EPA removed the transmission and storage segments of the oil and gas industry from any regulation, including of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, an air pollutant that is a precursor for smog. Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, "Daily on Energy, presented by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA): Congressional GOP quiet on Trump methane rule withdrawal," 14 Aug. 2020 This is a precursor to what will happen at other universities across the country. Rex Huppke,, "Column: At Republican National Convention, coronavirus news is rosy. Sick students and the dead might disagree.," 26 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'precursor.' 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 precursor

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for precursor

Middle English precursoure, from Latin praecursor, from praecurrere to run before, from prae- pre- + currere to run — more at current entry 1

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Time Traveler for precursor

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

12 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Precursor.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for precursor


How to pronounce precursor (audio) How to pronounce precursor (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of precursor

somewhat formal : something that comes before something else and that often leads to or influences its development


pre·​cur·​sor | \ pri-ˈkər-sər How to pronounce precursor (audio) , ˈprē-ˌ How to pronounce precursor (audio) \

Medical Definition of precursor

1 : one that precedes and indicates the onset of another angina may be the precursor of a second infarction
2 : a substance, cell, or cellular component from which another substance, cell, or cellular component is formed especially by natural processes

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