fore·​bear | \ ˈfȯr-ˌber \
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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Did You Know?

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

The 2019 Volkswagen Beetle, inspired by its forebears, will be among the last of its kind. Chester Dawson, WSJ, "Volkswagen Kills Beetle, Ending Production of Iconic Vehicle," 13 Sep. 2018 Today’s vampires, like today’s people, will seem domesticated compared with their reeking forebears, yet the modern hemophiles Ms. Atwood complains of are still helping us understand ourselves. Daniel Akst, WSJ, "‘The Vampire’ Review: Creatures Made for Haunting," 30 Oct. 2018 During the breakdown of the ’70s, families with means fled to the suburbs in even greater numbers than their ’50s and ’60s forebears. New York Times, "How the Kiwi Changed New York’s Food Scene," 16 Apr. 2018 At a news conference Friday to announce the end of the occupation, students once again paid tribute to their forebears at Howard. Joe Heim, Washington Post, "Echoes of the past reverberated in Howard University student occupation," 7 Apr. 2018 Less concerned with questions of form and style than their autofiction forebears, these novels and stories suggest that fiction has finally begun to move from its place of deep solipsism to address a deepening sense of futility. Megan O’grady, New York Times, "Read Any Antisocial Novels Lately?," 10 May 2018 Other than providing the opportunity for some boisterous and bravura acting, this creates the notion of the forebears haunting the villains that lead their company to ruin. Demetrios Matheou, The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Lehman Trilogy': Theater Review," 13 July 2018 He was cited as a major forebear of Abstract Expressionism. Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, "The Vulnerable Ferocity of Chaim Soutine," 7 May 2018 Any children fathered by our hybrid creature would be genetically mine; my parents would be the genetic forebears. Paul Root Wolpe, Vox, "A human head transplant would be reckless and ghastly. It’s time to talk about it.," 2 Apr. 2018

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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Statistics for forebear

Last Updated

25 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for forebear

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

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English Language Learners Definition of forebear

: a member of your family in the past


fore·​bear | \ ˈfȯr-ˌber\

Kids Definition of forebear

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More from Merriam-Webster on forebear

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with forebear

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for forebear

Spanish Central: Translation of forebear

Nglish: Translation of forebear for Spanish Speakers

Comments on forebear

What made you want to look up forebear? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to gather or build up little by little

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