an·​te·​ced·​ent | \ ˌan-tə-ˈsē-dᵊnt How to pronounce antecedent (audio) \
plural antecedents

Essential Meaning of antecedent

1 grammar : a word or phrase that is represented by another word (such as a pronoun) "John" is the antecedent of the pronoun "him" in "Mary saw John and thanked him."
2 formal : something that came before something else and may have influenced or caused it The events were antecedents of/to the war. [=the events helped to cause the war] the antecedents of rap music [=music that came before and influenced rap music]
3 formal : the people in a family who lived in past times He is proud of his Scottish antecedents. [=(more commonly) ancestors]

Full Definition of antecedent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 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
2a : a preceding event, condition, or cause events that were antecedents of the war
b antecedents plural : the significant events, conditions, and traits of one's earlier life
3a : predecessor especially : a model or stimulus for later developments The sackbut was the antecedent of the trombone.
b antecedents plural : ancestors, parents He was proud of his Scottish antecedents.
4 : the conditional element in a proposition (such as if A in "if A, then B")
5 mathematics : the first term of a mathematical ratio



Definition of antecedent (Entry 2 of 2)

: prior antecedent events

Other Words from antecedent


antecedently adverb

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

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.).

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Though money changed hands only at the point of delivery, this was the antecedent of our contemporary one-click shopping experience. Corey Mintz, Wired, 16 Nov. 2021 The principal problem seems to be a deeper antecedent offense. Joan Biskupic, CNN, 24 Oct. 2021 The Third Great Awakening, from the second half of the 19th century to the early 20th century, brought forth the Social Gospel movement and Progressive politics that are an antecedent to the wave of ardors that has swept over the early 21st century. Lance Morrow, WSJ, 17 Oct. 2021 The activists’ frustration with Washington has an obvious antecedent: Immigration reform has been a perennial goal for lawmakers and presidents that always fails, sometimes spectacularly. Deepa Fernandes, San Francisco Chronicle, 30 Sep. 2021 Powers’s thoroughly modern fable of environmental mourning hardly needs to dredge up that cringeworthy antecedent. Washington Post, 21 Sep. 2021 Every bad team reminds one of a horrible team from another era, and in the case of the 2021 Cubs the most recent antecedent is the 1999 version that lost 95 games. Paul Sullivan,, 14 Aug. 2021 Trust is an important antecedent to engagement, and therefore very relevant to performance and work being done. Agnes Uhereczky, Forbes, 29 June 2021 While the health care plan stalled, the conservative tea party movement -- in many ways the antecedent of Trump's preponderantly White, non-urban political movement -- erupted in opposition to the proposal. Ronald Brownstein, CNN, 1 June 2021

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


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for antecedent

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

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

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Last Updated

3 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Antecedent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2021.

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More Definitions for antecedent


an·​te·​ce·​dent | \ ˌan-tə-ˈsēd-ᵊnt \

Legal Definition of antecedent

: earlier in time or order

More from Merriam-Webster on antecedent

Nglish: Translation of antecedent for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of antecedent for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about antecedent


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