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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The sequel is a more explicit künstlerroman than its antecedent. Jennifer Wilson, The Atlantic, 19 Apr. 2022 But these campaign videos actually have a different, more prosaically political antecedent: Tucker Carlson’s monologues. New York Times, 22 Mar. 2022 Wide swaths of Scott’s plan—including bolstering police funding, waging war on career politicians, demanding that parents receive a greater say in school curriculum—find their antecedent in Newt Gingrich’s original. Jason Linkins, The New Republic, 26 Feb. 2022 Such properties might be derived from the ancient origins of exosomes’ antecedent vesicles in noxious primordial seas near the beginning of biological evolution—even before the development of bacteria. Philip W. Askenase, Scientific American, 17 June 2020 Kozmo, which raised over $200 million of funding in 2000 to deliver ice cream, DVDs and other convenience items in an hour, is a notable antecedent to the current rush of instant-delivery startups. Eliot Brown, WSJ, 30 Jan. 2022 This vague gesture in the direction of deism has no antecedent in the book, no moral or theological trajectory to make Bambi’s insight meaningful or satisfying. Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker, 17 Jan. 2022 And, to its benefit, this iteration refashions a few of the narrative constructs and trims many of the superfluous story threads from the antecedent adaptation to focus primarily on the evolution of Greg and Rowley’s friendship. Courtney Howard, Variety, 3 Dec. 2021 The nearest cultural antecedent to Lenny—the other obvious choice for a billionaire’s water-sport man crush—was Lenny’s own childhood hero, Maui big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton. Daniel Duane, Wired, 23 Dec. 2021 See More

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.

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

13 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Antecedent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 May. 2022.

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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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