an·​ces·​tor | \ˈan-ˌses-tər also -səs- \

Definition of ancestor 

1a : 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.

b : forefather sense 2

2 : forerunner, prototype an exhibit of the ancestors of the modern computer

3 : a progenitor (see progenitor sense 1b) of a more recent or existing species or group the ancestor of the modern horse

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Synonyms & Antonyms for ancestor


father, forebear (also forbear), forebearer, forefather, grandfather, primogenitor, progenitor


descendant (also descendent)

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

More than 2 million years ago, our ancestors were already world travelers, trekking all the way from Africa to Asia, according to stone tools found on a cliff face in north-central China. Ann Gibbons, Science | AAAS, "Our ancestors may have left Africa hundreds of thousands of years earlier than thought," 11 July 2018 So for those who can’t enjoy Chipotle’s cilantro lime rice because of the soapy taste, your ancestors may be to blame. Alexandra Deabler, Fox News, "A genetic test can determine if you will hate cilantro," 25 June 2018 My mom is Dominican, but her ancestors are from West Africa. Kelsey Castañon,, "I'm Latinx — & I'm Fed Up With Being Called "Exotic"," 24 May 2018 View from Castello di Arechi, former home of Prince Siconolfo, the author’s ancestor. Michael Siconolfi, WSJ, "Searching the Amalfi Coast for Long-Lost Family Ties," 11 Oct. 2018 Many giant dinosaurs walked on four legs but had ancestors that walked on two legs. Chris Ciaccia, Fox News, "Amazing giant dinosaur discovery: New dino species identified," 28 Sep. 2018 Some of those buildings might have been the work of rulers from the Umayyad dynasty, which al-Mu’tasim’s ancestors had overthrown in 750CE. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, "Medieval artisans built a glass-walled palace in the desert," 31 Aug. 2018 More than 1,000 people are expected to gather July 14-15 for the Orange County Buddhist Church’s annual Obon festival, a traditional Japanese celebration that honors ancestors through music and dance. Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil,, "Anaheim Buddhist festival honoring ancestors is open to all," 5 July 2018 Two of his ancestors had fought for the Union at Gettysburg. Bonnie L. Cook,, "Frank A. Goodfellow III, 80, longtime Rowan professor," 7 June 2018

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

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for ancestor

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

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Statistics for ancestor

Last Updated

3 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ancestor

The first known use of ancestor was in the 13th century

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More Definitions for ancestor



English Language Learners Definition of ancestor

: a person who was in someone's family in past times : one of the people from whom a person is descended

: an animal in the past from which a modern animal developed

: something in the past from which something else has developed


an·​ces·​tor | \ˈan-ˌse-stər \

Kids Definition of ancestor

1 : a person from whom someone is descended

2 : something from which something else develops



Legal Definition of ancestor 

1a : a person from whom an individual is descended : ascendant

b : a person from whom an estate descends — compare heir

2 : one that precedes ancestor in title

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More from Merriam-Webster on ancestor

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with ancestor

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for ancestor

Spanish Central: Translation of ancestor

Nglish: Translation of ancestor for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ancestor for Arabic Speakers

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