pre·​fig·​ure ˌprē-ˈfi-gyər How to pronounce prefigure (audio)
 especially British  -ˈfi-gə
prefigured; prefiguring; prefigures

transitive verb

: to show, suggest, or announce by an antecedent type, image, or likeness
: to picture or imagine beforehand
ˌprē-ˈfi-gyər-mənt How to pronounce prefigure (audio)
 especially British  -ˈfi-gə-

Example Sentences

His style of painting prefigured the development of modern art. the first crocus traditionally prefigures the arrival of spring
Recent Examples on the Web Exhibited in New York in 1952, the works prefigure the Pop Art movement by a decade; Warhol began drawing and painting dollar signs in the early 1960s. Andy Grundberg, Washington Post, 17 Dec. 2022 The company’s latest financial results seem to prefigure this bleak prospect. George Calhoun, Forbes, 1 June 2022 But even as the spare language of her lines endows them with a monumental feel, their brevity and levity also prefigure the semiotically fraught short exchanges of the texting era. Washington Post, 20 Nov. 2021 The termites survive in duds, bombs, and forgotten one-offs like Dark City (1998), which combines elements that prefigure The Matrix with themes from Five Million Years to Earth. Samuel Goldman, The Week, 16 Sep. 2021 The weakness of their victory is related to the second, more general reason to watch the SBC: Big church splits can prefigure big national splits. Bonnie Kristian, The Week, 16 June 2021 These opening titles really seem to prefigure the Harry Potter movies. Emma Specter, Vogue, 19 Oct. 2021 Visits by Kerry to Saudi Arabia and Mexico before Glasgow could prefigure new commitments from both those countries. Washington Post, 15 Oct. 2021 Its remaining original construction — in the vernacular idiom, with touches that prefigure the Baroque, and an Orientalist flared red ceramic tile roof — dates to the late 1500s. New York Times, 24 Sep. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'prefigure.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English, from Late Latin praefigurare, from Latin prae- pre- + figurare to shape, picture, from figura figure

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near prefigure

Cite this Entry

“Prefigure.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


pre·​fig·​ure (ˈ)prē-ˈfig-yər How to pronounce prefigure (audio)
 especially British  -ˈfig-ər
: to show, suggest, or announce by an earlier type, image, or likeness
the first crocus prefigures the arrival of spring
: to picture or imagine beforehand
prefigure the outcome of the game
(ˈ)prē-ˈfig-yər-mənt How to pronounce prefigure (audio)
 especially British  -ˈfig-ər-

More from Merriam-Webster on prefigure

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Challenging Standardized Test Words, Vol. 2

  • a pencil broken in half on top of a test answer sheet
  • The business’s new computer system proved not to be a panacea.
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?