Thinking of the words "precedent" and "antecedent" led me to this question. They seem to mean almost exactly the same thing in their more general usages, but "antecedent" seems to imply causation while "precedent" does not. Is there some difference between "pre" and "ante" that I don't understand, or am I just misunderstanding the definitions of "precedent" and "antecedent"?

  • Isn't it that 'precedent' is more proximate than 'antecedent'? Can't we read it along with precede x succeed; anterior x posterior?
    – Ram Pillai
    Dec 14, 2020 at 12:20

3 Answers 3

  • pro (w/abl) > position and separation (pro + ject = from a point --> departure)
  • ante (w/acc) > location and direction (ante + chamber = before the room, --> towards it) whereas > (ante + mortem = before death <-- prior to it)
  • prae (w/abl) > place where = position (pre + fer =put before --above all)

One may keep these in mind in understanding the basic difference–not always so clear, but gives the notion based on Latin.

  • I'm guessing that (w/abl) stands for "ablative", while (w/acc) stands for "accusative”. Though I'm not sure what the "w" stands for
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 9, 2021 at 11:42
  • @Mari-LouA: "w/" is often used as an abbreviation for "with"; I assume that's what's meant here.
    – psmears
    Mar 9, 2021 at 11:56

From New Oxford American Dictionary

ante- PREFIX
before, preceding
before (in time, place, order, degree, or importance)

So there is much overlap in the meaning. I would say the difference is that pre- is much more common. You would say "in pre-Covid times". Do not say "in ante-Covid times" unless you are an expert speaker of English and know what you are doing.

  • 2
    I suspect that "pre-" is still productive, but "ante-" is not mainly because of the possibility of confusing it with "anti-".
    – Greybeard
    Dec 14, 2020 at 12:30
  • As this says, they are basically very similar but have slightly different connotations and are used in slightly different ways, often with a series of terms modelled on a similar term. If you can get access to the OED, you can browse their vast list and see the many shades of meaning. For instance, you find ante- in a lot of terms meaning a small place in front of a bigger one (e.g. ante-chamber) but this sense doesn't apply to many ante-words.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 14, 2020 at 13:41

It really does not matter if there is a distinction between pr[a]e and ante. The tendency is as follows:

The pre- prefix has entered English directly from Latin, and French and has been used to create words in English from Late Middle English onwards chiefly with the added meaning of "before [with respect to time] prenatal - before [the time of] the birth.

The ante- prefix has has entered English directly from Latin, and French and has been used to create words in English from the 17th century onwards chiefly with the added meaning of "before [with respect to space or time]", e.g. antenatal before [the time of] the birth / antechamber before (place) the main chamber.

Origins and eytomology from OED:

English anteroom adj. Origin: A borrowing from Latin, combined with English elements. Etymons: ante- prefix, Old English hrum (rare).

Latin - Antecede: antecēdere antecede v Origin: A borrowing from Latin. Etymon: Latin antecēdere.

1628 T. Spencer Art of Logick 239 This Axiome..containes nothing that doth antecede, or follow.

antestomach n.

French: Etymology: < Old French estomac, stomaque, stomeque (modern French estomac)

1678 J. Ray tr. F. Willughby Ornithol. i. 17 The Gullet..in many birds of this kind immediately above the stomach is dilated into a kind of bag or ante-stomach.

Pre- :

Latin: prae-ambulāre to walk before (see preamble)

French: preeminence, Etymology: < Middle French preeminence, preeminance, preheminance, prehemynence.

English: predestiny Etymology: < pre- prefix + destiny n. Etymology (destiny): Middle English,

  • References? Summary referencing causation (or not)? Apr 8, 2021 at 18:24

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