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

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 One group might sell golf balls for $50 apiece and the chance to win a new car, with the drop as the precursor to the golf itself. Erik Matuszewski, Forbes, 27 Dec. 2021 But the differences between the Facebook Papers and their Cold War precursor are more relevant than their similarities. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, 29 Oct. 2021 But the 10-episode second season just doubles down on the failures of its precursor without the compensatory empathy for or interest in victims. Washington Post, 17 Sep. 2021 There is no evidence that the Wuhan virology lab or any other facility in China was working on a virus sufficiently similar to SARS2 to be its precursor. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 26 Aug. 2021 Prior to 1928, Olympic gymnastics, like its precursor in ancient Greece, was defined rather broadly. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 26 July 2021 Officers are very aware that many residents and city councilors don’t want police to recreate the Gun Violence Reduction Team or its precursor, the Gang Enforcement Team, Resch said. oregonlive, 18 July 2021 The Garden of Words was his precursor to those smash hits, using gorgeous images of lush nature as the stage for its two leads’ melancholic emotions. Eric Vilas-boas, Vulture, 5 Apr. 2021 As with its hugely popular precursor, celebrities will be eliminated and unmasked each week – based on votes by the virtual audience and panelists — until the winner is revealed at the end of the nine-week competition. Editors, USA TODAY, 26 Dec. 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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The first known use of precursor was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

28 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Precursor.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jan. 2022.

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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 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

More from Merriam-Webster on precursor

Nglish: Translation of precursor for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of precursor for Arabic Speakers


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