Share this entry

ancestor Line breaks: an¦ces|tor
Pronunciation: /ˈansɛstə/

Definition of ancestor in English:


1A person, typically one more remote than a grandparent, from whom one is descended: he could trace his ancestors back to James the First
More example sentences
  • A smaller unit is the lineage, a kin group of four or five generations descended from a male ancestor traced though the male line.
  • Yet evolution predicts not just successions of forms, but also genetic lineages from ancestors to descendants.
  • The family unit has at its head the ancestors followed by the grandparents, the father, the wives and then the children.
1.1An early type of animal or plant from which others have evolved: the ancestor of most dolphins is not clear both species of elephant have a common ancestor
More example sentences
  • It is generally accepted that all multicellular animals have evolved from a common ancestor, which itself evolved from a single-celled organism.
  • There are two main types, the dome heads and the horned dinosaurs, which evolved from a common ancestor during the early Cretaceous.
  • Finally we get to the common ancestor of all animals, plants, protists, and fungi.
1.2An early version of a machine, system, etc. this instrument is an ancestor of the lute
More example sentences
  • This solution is the ancestor of many versions of platonism in mathematics.
  • The oud is a popular instrument; it is an ancient stringed instrument that is the ancestor of the European lute.
  • An ancient stringed instrument, it is an ancestor of the European lute.


Middle English: from Old French ancestre, from Latin antecessor, from antecedere, from ante 'before' + cedere 'go'.

  • cede from early 16th century:

    Cede is from French céder or Latin cedere ‘to yield, give way, go’. Cedere is a rich source of English words including abscess (mid 16th century) ‘going away’ (of the infection when it bursts); access [Middle English] ‘go to’; ancestor (Middle English) someone who went ante ‘before’; antecedent (Late Middle English) from the same base as ancestor; cease (Middle English); concede (Late Middle English) to give way completely; decease (Middle English) ‘go away’; exceed (Late Middle English) to go beyond a boundary; intercede (late 16th century) go between; predecessor (Late Middle English) one who went away before; proceed (Late Middle English) to go forward; recede (Late Middle English) ‘go back’; and succeed (Late Middle English) ‘come close after’.

Words that rhyme with ancestor

capacitor • Exeter

Definition of ancestor in:

Share this entry


What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.

Get more from Oxford Dictionaries

Subscribe to remove adverts and access premium resources

Word of the day exemplum
Pronunciation: ɪɡˈzɛmpləm
an example or model...