precursor

noun

pre·​cur·​sor pri-ˈkər-sər How to pronounce precursor (audio) ˈprē-ˌkər- How to pronounce precursor (audio)
1
a
: 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
precursory
pri-ˈkərs-rē How to pronounce precursor (audio)
-ˈkər-sə-
adjective

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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.

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

Example Sentences

18th-century lyric poets like Robert Burns were precursors of the Romantics a precursor of the modern eggplant
Recent Examples on the Web Heart muscle cells produce small amounts of a hormone called BNP and its inactive precursor, NT-proBNP. Lee Pickett, Vmd, Arkansas Online, 7 Nov. 2022 Visitors can also play a board game that ancient Egyptians enjoyed – one of five board games found in his tomb – called senet, a sort of precursor to backgammon. Mark Kennedy, USA TODAY, 28 Oct. 2022 The brand and its precursor, 2hr Set, are not Elba’s only ventures in the fashion industry. Luke Leitch, Vogue, 19 Oct. 2022 Mims cofounded the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Black Harvest Film Festival and its precursor, the Blacklight festival. Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, 7 Oct. 2022 Elsewhere in the Smithsonian Podosphere Sidedoor recently celebrated the arrival of the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope in mid-July by retelling the story of its precursor, the Hubble Space Telescope. Chris Klimek, Smithsonian Magazine, 6 Sep. 2022 The inclination to spend ever more has never abated, particularly since World War II, when the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the United States’ first foreign-intelligence agency and precursor to the CIA, was established. Alex Kershaw, WSJ, 4 Nov. 2022 Reading Recovery lessons include activities based on phonics and its precursor skill, phonemic awareness. Mandy Mclaren, The Courier-Journal, 3 Nov. 2022 Portions of the company previously created Scribe, a precursor to Rewind that received some press attention in 2021. Benj Edwards, Ars Technica, 2 Nov. 2022 See More

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.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English precursoure, from Latin praecursor, from praecurrere to run before, from prae- pre- + currere to run — more at current entry 1

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near precursor

Cite this Entry

“Precursor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/precursor. Accessed 2 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition

precursor

noun

pre·​cur·​sor pri-ˈkər-sər How to pronounce precursor (audio) ˈprē-ˌkər- How to pronounce precursor (audio)
1
2
: a substance or cell from which another substance or cell is formed

Medical Definition

precursor

noun

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

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