I'm looking for a word that describes an entity that is the reason for another entity to exist. If that original entity stopped to exist, the other entity wouldn't exist because its right to exist would vanish with it.

for example: citizens to government.

without the citizens, government wouldn't make much sense. Its right to exist comes from the fact there are citizens.

The pattern:

A would be meaningless if B didn't exist. B is the word_i'm_looking_for of A.

Any ideas?


It may not be exactly "English", but most people use the term raison d'être. True English alternatives include basis, justification for existing, rationale, reason for existing, reason why, and my preferred one for OP's context (if I couldn't use raison d'être) - precondition.

  • The French term is exactly what I was looking for! Thanks :) Jul 15 '12 at 22:21

A related term is sine qua non, Latin for "without which, nothing". This may be used to describe an aspect or condition, not just an entity, but I think it shares the sensibility you seek.

  • I don't think sine qua non is normally used to imply that the dependent attribute/entity inevitably follows from the required antecedent. In fact, it's very often the other way around - the fact of that dependent relationship is often highlighted to emphasise that the antecedent must exist/be true if we already know the dependent entity exists. We might say, for example, that water is the sine qua non of intelligent life - but finding water on the moon wouldn't be cited as the reason why there's intelligent life there. Jul 16 '12 at 22:55
  • In response to FumbleFingers' comment, I don't think the original question indicated that the dependent entity would inevitably flow from the originating entity, but only that if the originating entity ceased to exist, the dependent entity would also. Government does not inevitably flow from citizens.
    – bib
    Jul 17 '12 at 16:03
  • On reconsidering OP's text, I think it's actually pretty vague about exactly what he is asking for, so maybe sine qua non is relevant. Obviously it's not "English", but neither is my offering. But I would just flag up OP's "A would be meaningless if B didn't exist". He didn't say "A could not exist if B didn't exist", which would be closer to the implication of B being the sine qua non of A. Jul 17 '12 at 20:42

Antecedent perhaps. I think that this is something that must exist in order that something else exist. There is a better word on the tip of my tongue but I can't remember it.

  • Antecedent has senses like "Any thing that precedes another thing, especially the cause of the second thing" and "An ancestor", but neither in denotation nor in connotation need an antecedent continue to exist after its consequence comes into being. The question says, "If that original entity stopped to exist, the other entity wouldn't exist because its right to exist would vanish with it". Actually, the same objection applies to reason why, precondition, and similar terms but perhaps not to sine qua non. Jul 20 '12 at 0:07

Perhaps underpinnings? While it is similar to foundation, I think it has a sense of being more intertwined with the essence of its progeny.


How about progenitor? That seems to fit the bill.

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. You answer would be more helpful if you provided a definition to support your answer and a link for the OP to get more info on the word.
    – amacy
    Nov 7 '12 at 8:18

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