fore·​bear ˈfȯr-ˌber How to pronounce forebear (audio)
variants or less commonly forbear
: 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."

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 In the way of his forebears, Mr. Gibson uses beads sourced from all over the world, including vintage beads from Japan and China, and glass beads from the Venetian island of Murano. Colleen Barry, The Christian Science Monitor, 19 Apr. 2024 Piercing through the series’ intense black-and-white palette, the Irish actor delivers a Ripley that is, at least according to the star, more relatable than his cinematic forebears. Elaina Patton, NBC News, 4 Apr. 2024 Yearwood also works to mentor and champion her fellow female artists, leading the Five Decades, One Voice initiative, as well as working with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to help preserve the legacies of many of her country music forebears. Jessica Nicholson, Billboard, 25 Mar. 2024 Original photo source: Prince Of Wales/Kensington Palace By The New York Times Having set out to control her image, Catherine now finds herself in a predicament not unlike some of her royal forebears, dogged by an online pack no less feral than the photographers who chased Diana in Paris. Mark Landler, New York Times, 12 Mar. 2024 Like its Enlightenment-era forebears, contemporary cryptozoology is rooted in that same hunger for strangeness, and for an enchanted world. Chris Wheatley, Longreads, 18 Jan. 2024 Xiaomi’s co-founder and CEO, Lei Jun, told the press at Thursday’s launch event that his company hopes to follow in the footsteps of his forebears. Bryan Hood, Robb Report, 29 Mar. 2024 Both movies have the right transgressive edge, borrowing from better forebears to create a product that entertains without taking itself too seriously. David Sims, The Atlantic, 22 Mar. 2024 Among his forebears were the painter and designer Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932) and Robert W. de Forest (1848-1931), a president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 20th century and the benefactor responsible for the creation of its American wing. Randy Kennedy, New York Times, 21 Jan. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'forebear.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 21 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


variants also forbear

More from Merriam-Webster on forebear

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