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

The movie’s magical bridge of petals allows young Miguel’s ancestors access to border-cross from the Land of the Dead. Michael Phillips,, "Disney's 'Moana' screened for migrant kids detained at border. Thanks for rubbing it in, America.," 19 June 2018 About half of Puerto Rico’s team includes players like those at Washington and Florida State: born in the U.S. but with ancestors born on the island. Rachel Bachman, WSJ, "Why U.S. Softball Wants to Make Its Opponents Better," 4 June 2018 Shortly after Prohibition ended, one of Ben Kovler’s ancestors invested $5,000 in a family of distillers led by James Beauregard Beam. Simone Foxman,, "Jim Beam Heir Turns to Pot With Plan for a Cannabis Empire," 14 May 2018 There was something really special about the way the class connected me to the rhythms and movements of my ancestors, in a way that no other fitness class has before. Tiffany Dodson, SELF, "Afro Flow Yoga Helped Me Connect to the Rhythm of My Ancestors and View Fitness in a New Way," 1 July 2018 Drawing from that history, Yellowtail released a capsule collection in December that specifically looked at the activism work of her ancestors. Christian Allaire, Vogue, "How 6 Indigenous Designers Are Using Fashion to Reclaim Their Culture," 30 May 2018 Our cells are also home to ancient lodgers — bacteria that invaded the cells of our ancestors 1.8 billion years ago, with DNA of their own. Carl Zimmer, STAT, "Shot through with microbes: How our bodies adapt to a hidden world of bacteria," 30 May 2018 But most of our ancestors started elsewhere; most of us will relate to at least some of the stories told here. Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "'Ellis' tales of immigrants suggest no one is an island," 11 Feb. 2018 Opening a jar in midwinter and tasting the fatty skins takes me back up the river of my ancestors all over again. Frederick Olsen Jr. | Opinion, Anchorage Daily News, "Salmon initiative promises to protect a way of life," 31 Jan. 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

8 Oct 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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Comments on ancestor

What made you want to look up ancestor? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


evasion of direct action or statement

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