an·​ces·​tor ˈan-ˌse-stər How to pronounce ancestor (audio)
 also  -sə-
: one from whom a person is descended and who is usually more remote in the line of descent than a grandparent
Her ancestors came to America in the 1880s.
: forerunner, prototype
an exhibit of the ancestors of the modern computer
: a progenitor (see progenitor sense 1b) of a more recent or existing species or group
the ancestor of the modern horse

Examples of ancestor in a Sentence

My ancestors came to America during the 1800s. Her ancestors were great sea captains. an ancient animal that was the ancestor of the modern horse The museum included an exhibit showing ancestors of the modern computer. several languages that are derived from a common ancestor Latin is the ancestor of Italian and French. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Wally Badarou’s music reconnects me with a certain kind of 1980s fantasy cinema, whereas Dean Blunt’s tracks evokes a more spiritual dimension of the voices of the ancestors. Ben Croll, Variety, 18 Feb. 2024 While the researchers didn’t want to speculate on why the apes were specifically engaging in teasing behaviors, their findings suggest both a social utility in ape communities and the existence of a common ancestor, shared between apes and humans, that enjoyed a little mischief. Christian Thorsberg, Smithsonian Magazine, 15 Feb. 2024 In Earnings Report Genomic analysis has recently revealed the immediate ancestor of three-finger toxin genes is a member of the LY6/UPAR protein family, a group of proteins with diverse biological functions. Scott Travers, Forbes, 14 Feb. 2024 The group’s repertoire consists mostly of songs that date back 200 to 400 years and which invoke the names of living peoples’ actual relatives and ancestors. Tim Greiving, Los Angeles Times, 13 Feb. 2024 Originally planned as a television series, the movie finds Moana journeying on a dangerous mission to the far seas of Oceania after getting a call from her ancestors. Lindsey Bahr, Quartz, 7 Feb. 2024 But this discovery suggests that there might have been sulfide-eating mussels closer to the surface, ancestors of these new mussels and those in the deep. Veronique Greenwood, New York Times, 6 Feb. 2024 When integrated successfully, immigrants enrich our society with their diversity — as was true for previous generations, when most of our ancestors arrived. Gillian Brassil, Sacramento Bee, 5 Feb. 2024 The economy has seen immense transformation over that 200-year period, providing widespread living standard improvements unimaginable to our ancestors. Ryan Hogg, Fortune Europe, 2 Feb. 2024 See More

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

Word History


Middle English ancestre, from Anglo-French, from Latin antecessor predecessor, from antecedere to go before, from ante- + cedere to go

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of ancestor was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near ancestor

Cite this Entry

“Ancestor.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


an·​ces·​tor ˈan-ˌses-tər How to pronounce ancestor (audio)
: one from whom an individual, group, or species is descended
: something from which something else has developed : forerunner

Middle English ancestre "ancestor," from early French ancestre (same meaning), from Latin antecessor "one that goes before," derived from earlier antecedere "to go before," from ante- "before" and cedere "to go, yield" — related to concede, predecessor

Legal Definition


: a person from whom an individual is descended : ascendant
: a person from whom an estate descends compare heir
: one that precedes
ancestor in title

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