fore·​bear | \ ˈfȯr-ˌber How to pronounce forebear (audio) \
variants: or less commonly

Definition of forebear

: ancestor, forefather also : precursor usually used in plural His forebears fought in the American Civil War.

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Forebear (also sometimes spelled "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" (not to be confused with the "-bear" in the unrelated verb "forbear," which comes from Old English beran, meaning "to bear or carry"). The "be-" of "-bear" is from the verb "to be" (or, more specifically, from "been," an old dialect variant of "be"). The "-ar" is 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."

Examples of forebear in a Sentence

His forebears fought in the American Civil War. his forebears came to America on the Mayflower
Recent Examples on the Web Of special note: a gallery exploring the influence of Jean-François Millet, Monet’s immediate artistic forebear., 16 Sep. 2021 While Paint to Sample (PTS) cars came off the line, the vast majority were painted white—like their spiritual forebear—and could be ordered with graphics packages, typically red or green. Robert Ross, Robb Report, 30 Aug. 2021 With his emphasis on history from the ground up, Dr. Litwack can be seen in some respects as an intellectual forebear of recent movements to focus attention on the plight of marginalized groups in American life. Washington Post, 14 Aug. 2021 In a photo of those pages reproduced in the book, Mildred Harnack’s cramped yet careful handwriting crystallizes Donner’s goal: to write her heroic forebear back into history, to bring her back to life. Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times, 19 Aug. 2021 Of special note: a gallery exploring the influence of Jean-François Millet, Monet’s immediate artistic forebear., 12 Aug. 2021 Although collectible in their own right, those 3,021-pound modern counterparts are hard to compare with their forebear, which tips the scales at a svelte 1,810 pounds. Robert Ross, Robb Report, 9 Aug. 2021 Of special note: A gallery exploring the influence of Jean-François Millet, Monet’s immediate artistic forebear., 10 June 2021 Queen Elizabeth II made a quick visit Saturday to the Royal Navy's flagship aircraft carrier that bears the name of her eponymous forebear, ahead of its maiden operational deployment. Pan Pylas, ajc, 22 May 2021

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.

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First Known Use of forebear

15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for forebear

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

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

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fore beam



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Last Updated

30 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Forebear.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Oct. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of forebear

: a member of your family in the past : ancestor


fore·​bear | \ ˈfȯr-ˌber \

Kids Definition of forebear

More from Merriam-Webster on forebear

Nglish: Translation of forebear for Spanish Speakers


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