fore·​bear ˈfȯr-ˌber How to pronounce forebear (audio)
variants or less commonly
: ancestor, forefather
also : precursor
usually used in plural
His forebears fought in the American Civil War.

Did you know?

Forebear (also spelled, less commonly, as forbear) was first used by our ancestors in the days of Middle English. Fore- means "coming before," just as in forefather, and -bear means "one that is." This -bear is not to be confused with the -bear in the unrelated verb forbear, which comes from Old English beran, meaning "to bear or carry." The -bear in the noun forebear is a combination of be-, from the verb be (or, more specifically, from been, an old dialect variant of be), and -ar, a form of the suffix -er, which we append to verbs to denote one that performs a specified action. In this case the "action" is simply existing or being—in other words, -bear implies one who is a "be-er."

Example Sentences

His forebears fought in the American Civil War. his forebears came to America on the Mayflower
Recent Examples on the Web The show has reverence for its forebear’s structure but isn’t hampered by that devotion. David Sims, The Atlantic, 10 Jan. 2023 Crisis Core is shorter and more action-heavy than its forebear, and its portable roots offer a more casual RPG experience that can easily be picked up and enjoyed in short bursts. Dallas News, 5 Jan. 2023 Glass Onion, which already had a limited run in theaters in late November, is a noisier, spikier film than its forebear. David Sims, The Atlantic, 26 Dec. 2022 Today, the Black Death strain is survived by perhaps hundreds of Y. pestis strains that, while milder than their forebear, still cause disease globally. Emily Elert, Discover Magazine, 5 Jan. 2012 Like her literary forebear and influence Jane Austen, Ali has a great deal to say about moral life. Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times, 10 Dec. 2022 Like its forebear, the Crown proves quiet and comfy enough to drive, but the new hybrid driveline brings little driving fun to the equation. cleveland, 3 Dec. 2022 The Kaspare Cohn Hospital, begun in 1902 to treat Jewish tuberculosis patients in a house in Angelino Heights, was the forebear of today’s immense Cedars-Sinai medical network. Patt Morrison, Los Angeles Times, 29 Nov. 2022 That's 3 decibels more than the PHEV and 5 decibels more than its forebear. Greg Fink, Car and Driver, 29 Nov. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'forebear.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English (Scots), from fore- + -bear (from been to be)

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of forebear was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near forebear

Cite this Entry

“Forebear.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition


variants also forbear

More from Merriam-Webster on forebear

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