Antecedent Definition



Is something that happens or exists earlier or before something else. It can also refer to something that would logically seem to come before another thing.  

This word is commonly used when speaking about archeology or ancient traditions. In this context it is important to denote when one thing came before another.

  • The neanderthals were  antecedent to homosapians. This just means that neanderthals came before homosapians.
  • This is the first structure that was built, its antecedent  to the rest of the resort.

This word is especially used when events that come before are important or relevant to the current facts. In other words the word is used for events that are happening in chronological order, and one event impacts another.

One thing may be a model or early prototype of something that comes later. Therefore one shows the development of a product, device, idea, or other thing.

  • The bent pyramid is an antecedent to the great pyramids.
  • High School is antecedent  to University.

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It can also be used if a preceding event was the cause of the situation.

  • The cloth catching fire in the back room was the antecedent  to the building burning down.
  • Too many fatal car crashes where people were either ejected or had significantly moved in their seat was the antecedent  to seat belts being made mandatory.

Antecedent also refers to one’s ancestors or family background.

  • People are curious to know who their antecedents are.
  • I learned that George Washington is my antecedent.

Antecedent  can also be used to speak about the life of a specific person. Again, in this case it would just mean that something happened before.

  • We are still learning about events antecedent to his schooling.
  • Do you have anything that you can share with me antecedent  of your time at University?

Antecedent can also refer to something being the conditional element in a proposal or proposition. For example. If A then B.  A is the antecedent in the sentence.

  • If you’re going to go out in the cold, then you have to wear a hat.
  • If you’re going to take English classes, then you better make sure you practice.

In grammar an antecedent is the word that a pronoun refers to. The name of the person is said first, and then later referred to as a pronoun.

  • Jake  gave Sarah the book, and she thanked him.
  • This is Stephanie, please give her a hand.

Jake and Stephanie are antecedents.

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Since antecedent are  often used in two ways; to convey that something has happened or has come before another thing, and to speak about one’s ancestors those are the synonyms we’ll focus on.


Is a person or thing that came before another thing. This word can often be used as a direct replacement for antecedent.

  • Since the previews are always the precursor to any movie, we know we’ll have at least 10 extra minutes before the movie starts.
  • Pop Idol was the precursor to many of the singing shows you see on TV today.


Refers to something or someone that comes before another thing in the development process.

  • String instruments were the forerunner to the guitar.
  • While many people think the model t is the forerunner to the modern car, it is not.


Refers to a person who held an office before the person currently in the office.

  • Barack Obama is the predecessor to Donald Trump.
  • Since this is a new position, there isn’t a predecessor for me to get advice from.


Refers to existing before in order of time.

  • Let’s talk about what we learned in the previous class.
  • Do you understand everything that we learned previously?

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Is existing or coming before.

  • Prior to the first day of class, you need to fill out this form.
  • What did you do prior to this?


Refers to someone or something that previously filled a specific role.

  • He is the former communications director of the company.
  • She is a former child star.


Are family members that have come before you. When this word is used it’s usually to speak about people who came earlier than your grandparents.

  • My ancestors are from Ireland.
  • Where are your ancestors from?


Is a member of past generations.

  • This is a picture of my forefathers.
  • This is where my forefathers lived.

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Antecedents and anaphors are words that always go together.

With the antecedent, the anaphor would leave a reader or listener very confused!

The antecedent describes the person that is doing something, and the anaphor is a pronoun that refers to that antecedent. See this example:

  • I told Kevin to bring his book for the next class.

In this case, Kevin is the antecedent. That is word that the anaphor, his, describes. Most of the time, simply talking about Kevin is enough to understand the subject of the sentence.

However, if you only talk about “his book”, without mentioning the antecedent Kevin, the sentence makes much less sense.

Examples of Antecedents and Anaphors:

Here are some other sentences with antecedents and their corresponding anaphors. Note that anaphors are always types of pronouns.

They can be personal pronouns (both subject pronouns like she and they, and object pronouns like her and them); reflexive and reciprocal (himself, myself, each other); possessive (their, mine, etc.); or relative (who, that, which, etc.).

  • Naveen went to the mall yesterday, where he shopped for formal clothes. (antecedent: Naveen, anaphor: he)
  • These are the books of Mary and Amy; I will give them back the books. (antecedent: Mary and Amy, anaphor: them)
  • You can go to the park if you would like to, but I need to stay home and clean the house. (antecedent: you, anaphor: you)
  • She left a message for herself so that she would remember to finish the chore. (antecedent: she, anaphor: herself)
  • They tutor each other in math and English. (antecedent: they, anaphor: each other)
  • The woman who was at the library last week was at the same grocery store as I was! (antecedent: woman, anaphor: who)

Note that each of the antecedents would make sense if used by themselves, but the anaphors by themselves would be confusing. You would not know what they were referring to.

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Usage of Antecedents and Anaphors

For the most part, antecedents come before anaphors. This is typically true when they are in the same sentence, and especially true when they are in the same paragraph but different sentences. However, it is not required.

Note that some antecedents can be quite long, either a phrase or an entire sentence. For example:

  • The psychologist thought that grit, or the ability to stick with something even if it is difficult, was crucial to success. This has been supported by several of her colleagues.

In this case, the idea of grit and its relationship with success is the antecedent. The anaphor is the word “this” in the second paragraph, which refers to the entire idea of grit.


Sometimes, anaphors can come after the antecedent. This is usually for emphasis. It can create curiosity in terms of who the anaphor is referring to. See the following example:

When I first saw it, I thought the black spot was just some paint.

With this sentence, it is clear that it is the anaphor. It refers to the black spot, which is the antecedent. Because the anaphor comes after the antecedent, it is called the cataphor.

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