pre·​cur·​sor | \ pri-ˈkər-sər How to pronounce precursor (audio) , ˈprē-ˌkər- How to pronounce precursor (audio) \

Definition of precursor

1a : one that precedes and indicates the approach of another
2 : a substance, cell, or cellular component from which another substance, cell, or cellular component is formed

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Other Words from precursor

precursory \ pri-​ˈkərs-​rē How to pronounce precursor (audio) , -​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 This was the lesson of the deadly Charlottesville rally in 2017, which made clear that online hate is a precursor to offline violence. Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, "Trump’s Tweets Were Never Just Tweets," 7 Jan. 2021 An agreement in principle Saturday would be a precursor to more hours of translating compromises into detailed legislation. Andrew Taylor,, "Second stimulus check updates: Fight over Federal Reserve powers stalls $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief plan," 19 Dec. 2020 The legal salvo from Smartmatic may be a precursor to a defamation suit against Fox News, Newsmax and One America News. Stephen Battaglio Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "Fox News runs fact check in response to defamation charges by voting software firm," 19 Dec. 2020 An agreement in principle Saturday would be a precursor to more hours of translating compromises into detailed legislation. Andrew Taylor, ajc, "Fight over Fed powers stalls $900 billion aid plan," 19 Dec. 2020 This study could be a precursor to ESA funding development of the technology. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "Rocket Report: Angara finally flies again, Falcon 9 customers embrace reuse," 18 Dec. 2020 Israel has urged CNN International anchor Christiane Amanpour to apologize for comparing the Trump administration to Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogrom that occurred in Germany and Austria and became a precursor for the Holocaust. Mike Brest, Washington Examiner, "Israel urges CNN's Christiane Amanpour apologize for comparing Kristallnacht to Trump presidency," 16 Nov. 2020 Boeing remained an aerospace hardware manufacturer, while its airlines became United Airlines and the rest of the firm became the precursor for United Technologies. Tim Fernholz, Quartz, "What history can tell us about SpaceX’s astronaut-flying business," 16 Nov. 2020 The lawsuits are a likely precursor for what will come afterward. Eric Tucker, Anchorage Daily News, "Voting lawsuits pile up across US as election approaches," 30 Sep. 2020

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.

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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 entry 1

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Time Traveler for precursor

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for precursor

Last Updated

16 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Precursor.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for precursor


How to pronounce precursor (audio) How to pronounce precursor (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of precursor

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


pre·​cur·​sor | \ pri-ˈkər-sər How to pronounce precursor (audio) , ˈprē-ˌ How to pronounce precursor (audio) \

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

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