pre·​cur·​sor | \pri-ˈkər-sər, ˈprē-ˌkər- \

Definition of precursor 

1a : one that precedes and indicates the approach of another

b : predecessor

2 : a substance, cell, or cellular component from which another substance, cell, or cellular component is formed

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from precursor

precursory \pri-​ˈkərs-​rē, -​ˈkər-​sə-​ \ adjective

Choose the Right Synonym for precursor

forerunner, precursor, harbinger, herald mean one that goes before or announces the coming of another. forerunner is applicable to anything that serves as a sign or presage. the blockade was the forerunner of war precursor applies to a person or thing paving the way for the success or accomplishment of another. 18th century poets like Burns were precursors of the Romantics harbinger and herald both apply, chiefly figuratively, to one that proclaims or announces the coming or arrival of a notable event. their early victory was the harbinger of a winning season the herald of a new age in medicine

Precursor Has Latin Roots

With its prefix pre-, meaning "before", a precursor is literally a "forerunner", and in fact forerunner first appeared as the translation of the Latin praecursor. But the two words function a little differently today. A forerunner may simply come before another thing, but a precursor generally paves the way for something. So, for example, the Office of Strategic Services in World War II was the immediate precursor of today's Central Intelligence Agency, while the blues music of the 1930s and 1940s was only one of the precursors of the rock and roll of today.

Examples of precursor in a Sentence

18th-century lyric poets like Robert Burns were precursors of the Romantics a precursor of the modern eggplant

Recent Examples on the Web

North Korea has been demanding the United States agree to a declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, which some see as a precursor for pushing for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in South Korea. Fox News, "Book on Trump raises worries in South Korea about alliance," 7 Sep. 2018 By the early 1920s, one of the Krewes, probably Rex, started regularly throwing strands of glass Czech beads, a precursor to the plastic beads seen today. Olivia B. Waxman, Time, "The History Behind 5 of New Orleans' Favorite Mardi Gras Traditions," 12 Feb. 2018 Wan made his name with horror hits like Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring, but broke out in a serious way with his work on 2015’s Furious 7, which feels in some ways like a direct precursor to Arthur and Mera’s high-flying, explosive rooftop pursuit. Alex Abad-santos, Vox, "Watch: an extended look at Aquaman reveals a bright and bawdy undersea adventure," 5 Oct. 2018 That video served as a nice precursor to the opening of Mean Girls on Broadway, just as this Twitter video is priming us for A Star is Born’s upcoming release. Radhika Menon, Teen Vogue, ""High School Musical" Mashes Up Perfectly With "A Star Is Born" in This Viral Video," 2 Oct. 2018 He was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services, a World War II-era precursor to the CIA, by William Casey, who later became the director of the CIA. Maggie Maloney, Town & Country, "Prince Philip’s Cousin Was a Paratrooper Who Helped Liberate France From the Nazis," 20 Aug. 2018 There’s even a new retail concept store in Wynwood, Miami called Selina Brawlers, which opened as a precursor to the Little Havana location and sells everything from vintage motorcycles and cars to light fixtures and home decor. Annie Daly, Condé Nast Traveler, "Selina, the Hotel for Digital Nomads, Is Coming to the U.S.," 11 July 2018 The statement was issued by a precursor to the United Nations, not the organization that bears that name today, which was established in 1945. Lily Rothman, Time, "'It's Not That the Story Was Buried.' What Americans in the 1930s Really Knew About What Was Happening in Germany," 10 July 2018 This precursor to eggshell-walking could warrant counseling, for you alone if your wife refuses. Carolyn Hax, Detroit Free Press, "Wife’s feelings are hurt when kids fight over Dad at bedtime," 27 June 2018

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

See More

First Known Use of precursor

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for precursor

Middle English precursoure, from Latin praecursor, from praecurrere to run before, from prae- pre- + currere to run — more at current

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about precursor

Dictionary Entries near precursor








Statistics for precursor

Last Updated

8 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for precursor

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for precursor



English Language Learners Definition of precursor

: something that comes before something else and that often leads to or influences its development


pre·​cur·​sor | \pri-ˈkər-sər, ˈprē-ˌ \

Medical Definition of precursor 

1 : one that precedes and indicates the onset of another angina may be the precursor of a second infarction

2 : a substance, cell, or cellular component from which another substance, cell, or cellular component is formed especially by natural processes

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on precursor

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


to move with a clumsy heavy tread

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!