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

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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

William Brown, the first of two recipients of the Badge of Military Merit, the precursor of the Purple Heart, during the Revolutionary War, stands in Pioneer Cemetery in Columbia Tusculum. Cincinnati Enquirer,, "Our history: Revolutionary War patriots among city settlers," 3 July 2018 Hera will be tasked with communicating with ground stations on Earth as well as its smaller satellite companions as a precursor for potential future deep space missions. Avery Thompson, Popular Mechanics, "New Spacecraft Will Head to Binary Asteroid to Help Protect the Planet," 25 June 2018 It has been closely monitored since the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found precursors for nerve agents there in 2014. New York Times, "Missile Strikes Are Unlikely to Stop Syria’s Chemical Attacks, Pentagon Says," 19 Apr. 2018 It has been closely monitored since the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found precursors for nerve agents there in 2014. Author: Thomas Gibbons Neff, Anchorage Daily News, "Missile strikes are unlikely to stop Syria’s chemical attacks, Pentagon says," 19 Apr. 2018 The dog-peeing celebration, which was a precursor for other explosions in the Giants locker room. Albert Breer,, "NFL Draft Rumors Start in Cleveland, Where No. 1 Overall Pick is No Sure Thing," 12 Apr. 2018 What the Chalybes made is called wrought iron, one of a couple major precursors to modern steel. Jonathan Schifman, Popular Mechanics, "The Entire History of Steel," 9 July 2018 By June 12, Jennings was charged with possession of precursors to manufacture methamphetamine. Kaitlyn Schwers, kansascity, "Meth lab found in Bates County garage, sheriff’s office says. Four arrested," 7 July 2018 Martin Gelb of Derry was part of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Holly Ramer, The Seattle Times, "World War II intelligence officer gets congressional medal," 25 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.

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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

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Statistics for precursor

Last Updated

13 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for precursor

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

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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

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