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Alternative forms[edit]


Late 15th century, from fore- +‎ beer (one who is or exists, literally be-er).


forebear (plural forebears)

  1. An ancestor.
    Hypernym: predecessor
    • 1885, Richard F. Burton, The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Night 566:
      One day, among the days, he bethought him of this and fell lamenting for that the most part of his existence was past and he had not been vouchsafed a son, to inherit the kingdom after him, even as he had inherited it from his fathers and forebears; by reason whereof there betided him sore cark and care and chagrin exceeding.
    • [1906] 2004, Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville, Ethel Wedgwood tr.
      Sirs, I am quite sure that the King of England's forbears rightly and justly lost the conquered lands that I hold []
    • [1936] 2004, Raymond William Firth, We the Tikopia [1]
      One does not take one’s family name therefrom, and again the position of the mother in that group is determined through her father and his male forbears in turn; this too is a patrilineal group.
    • 1960 December, “New reading on railways”, in Trains Illustrated, page 776:
      THE LONDON BRIGHTON & SOUTH COAST RAILWAY. By C. Hamilton Ellis. Ian Allan. 30s. [...] In the course of its pages the author runs through the whole gamut of the locomotives that have during the period under review run on the rails of the L.B. & S.C. and its forebears.
    • 1997, H. L. Hix, Understanding W. S. Merwin[2]:
      Beginning with the bald declaration “I think I was cold in the womb,” the speaker in “The Forbears” then decides that his brother (who died soon after birth) must also have been cold in the womb, like his grandfather John and the forbears who antedated John.
    • 2013 June 14, Jonathan Freedland, “Obama's once hip brand is now tainted”, in The Guardian Weekly, volume 189, number 1, page 18:
      Now we are liberal with our innermost secrets, spraying them into the public ether with a generosity our forebears could not have imagined. Where we once sent love letters in a sealed envelope, or stuck photographs of our children in a family album, now such private material is despatched to servers and clouds operated by people we don't know and will never meet.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Not to be confused with the verb forbear (to hold back, restrain, decline, refuse).




forebear (third-person singular simple present forebears, present participle forebearing, simple past forebore, past participle foreborne)

  1. Obsolete spelling of forbear