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 precursory (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 Paul Miller, executive director of NESCAUM, testified that the rule would provide a crucial mechanism for curbing ozone, a precursor to smog formation. Maxine Joselow, Scientific American, "California Passes Historic Clean Truck Rule," 29 June 2020 Has technology made the political lie any different from its Attic or Progressive-era precursor? Aziz Huq, Washington Post, "Political lies aren’t new, but the methods of spreading them are," 25 June 2020 Producers in some places are out of precursor ingredients needed to make some drugs due to supply chain issues, which has led prices for some drugs, such as methamphetamine, to increase in the United States. Anna Giaritelli, Washington Examiner, "Pandemic to heighten global drug use already up 30% over past decade: UN," 25 June 2020 Though there have been no world wars since and the organisation (unlike its precursor, the League of Nations) has proven resilient, the world order is rickety. The Economist, "Week in charts Britain’s bungling of the pandemic," 19 June 2020 Seven months later, the agency entered negotiations with Axiom Space, a space services company based in Houston, to attach at least one new module to the station as a precursor to Axiom establishing its own commercial outpost. Robert Z. Pearlman, Ars Technica, "Everything we know—and don’t—about Tom Cruise’s plans to film a movie in space," 18 June 2020 The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, is requesting $10 million for Dion and $1.5 million for William. Emilly, azcentral, "Black teen misidentified as robbery suspect files $10M claim against Phoenix police," 8 June 2020 But the team is tied to the legacy of its precursor and a 20-year-old system of designating people as gang members or gang associates, discontinued in October 2017. oregonlive, "Portland’s gun violence enforcement officers expected to return to patrol, divided among precincts," 17 June 2020 Fans wondered if Mikkelsen's Instagram was a precursor to an official announcement that Hannibal would finally get a second chance. Shannon Carlin,, "Hannibal Was Cancelled In 2015, But Netflix Has Given Fans New Hope," 12 June 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

2 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Precursor.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jul. 2020.

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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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