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

Definition of antecedent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 grammar : a substantive word, phrase, or clause whose denotation is referred to by a pronoun (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

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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 Trump’s assassination of Soleimani, of course, has its own antecedents. Osita Nwanevu, The New Republic, "Our Frightening Moment Was Years in the Making," 8 Jan. 2020 Looming behind today’s debates over the treatment of migrants in US detention centers and its historical antecedents is a larger question: Is the present administration descending into fascism? Peter E. Gordon, The New York Review of Books, "Why Historical Analogy Matters," 7 Jan. 2020 The band’s direct antecedent was Roxy Music, which had championed stylised futuristic rock, but the Cars took it further both in depth and commercial appeal. J.d., The Economist, "With the Cars, Ric Ocasek took New Wave music mainstream," 19 Sep. 2019 The history of radio and state in Angola should remind us that the problems of fake news, bots, and infiltrated media ecosystems that make the headlines today have antecedents. Marissa J. Moorman, Quartz Africa, "How radio played a pivotal role in the anti-colonial struggle in Angola during the Cold War," 7 Dec. 2019 In 1962, the State Toll Bridge Authority — one of many antecedents to the MTC and Caltrans — released plans for two bridges, one connecting San Francisco to Tiburon by way of Angel Island, the other providing passage from San Francisco to Alameda. Rachel Swan,, "Feinstein asked for another bridge across the bay. Regional planners frowned," 15 Nov. 2019 The complete definition must also include the signals giving rise to fear (antecedents) and objectively observable behaviors (consequents). Dean Mobbs, Scientific American, "On the Nature of Fear," 20 Sep. 2019 Surely the point of reading a biography is to learn how the subject’s personality and behavior evolve from their antecedents, and this understanding is possible only when the book commences at the beginning of a life. Howard Schneider, National Review, "Thomas Edison’s Strange Genius," 7 Nov. 2019 Patricia Mears, deputy director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, sees antecedents in the 1980s. Ray A. Smith, WSJ, "This Is Big: The New Oversize Silhouette," 17 Oct. 2018

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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Time Traveler for antecedent

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

31 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Antecedent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for antecedent


How to pronounce antecedent (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of antecedent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

grammar : a word or phrase that is represented by another word (such as a pronoun)
formal : something that came before something else and may have influenced or caused it
formal : the people in a family who lived in past times



English Language Learners Definition of antecedent (Entry 2 of 2)

formal : earlier in time


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

Legal Definition of antecedent

: earlier in time or order

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