Without noticing myself, I've mixed the use of "ascendants" and "ancestors" in some documentation I've written.

In an arbitrary hierarchy (of either people or things), what would be the most correct term to use, to describe my parent(s) parent(s) parent(s), etc.?

That is, descendants would be my children, their children, and so forth. In the exact reverse order, would ascendants and ancestors be interchangeable, or would one be preferred over the other?

Both TheFreeDictionary.com and Dictionary.com lists ancestor as a synonym of ascendants, though neither precisely defines it in the context of a hierarchy per se.

  • Yes they're interchangeable, but ancestors is more recent and more widely used and recognised. Jan 15, 2013 at 16:37
  • Welcome to EL&U. Your question should include your research on the matter -- in this case, for example, dictionaries you consulted and why the result was inadequate. Thanks.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 15, 2013 at 16:48
  • @MετάEd Thanks - I've added links to the dictionaries I checked. Jan 15, 2013 at 17:02
  • In programming ascendants is sometimes used in technical lingo to refer to hierarchically organized "things" which do not (necessarily) represent people. So in programming ascendants is used as a more generic concept than ancestors. Ex.: categories (and other taxonomies) may have a parent, children, ascendants, descendants. Other than that I perceive them as full synonyms -- and I am aware that ascendants is far less commonplace. Jul 25, 2015 at 23:02
  • FWIW, the popular culture usage that tweaked my interest. "We, the last unbroken remnants, vow to undo the errors of our ascendants. To make the Earth whole, the lost unlost, at peril of our own birth." Sep 4, 2017 at 0:06

2 Answers 2


Ascendant does have the meaning you use here, but it is rare, and many may not know that sense of the word, so you should favour ancestor.

(The other senses of ascendant do also have descendant as an antonym too, so if you look up the antonym of descendant you may find ascendant cited for that reason more than for this rare sense).


I think what you mean is antecedent vs. ancestor. I am not sure if ascendent connotes the meaning you have in mind, but the two others I suggested would be interchangeable in some contexts. However, in your specific case ancestor seems to be a better fit.

  • 2
    Ascendant/ascendent (both spellings are found) can mean what the querent asks about here too. It's just so rare as to be ill-advised.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 15, 2013 at 16:18
  • From OED: Ascendent/ascendant: One who precedes in genealogical succession; an ancestor; a relative in the ascending line, whether lineal, as father, mother, or collateral, as uncle, great-uncle. Jan 15, 2013 at 16:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.