fore·bear also for·bear (fôrbâr′)
A person from whom one is descended; an ancestor. See Synonyms at ancestor.
[Late Middle English (Scottish) forbear : Middle English fore-, fore- + beer, one who is (from ben, to be; see BE + -er, -er; see -ER1).]
Usage Note: Etymologically, a forebear is a "a fore-be-er," a person who has existed in earlier times. But because the -bear part of this word is pronounced to rhyme with the verb bear, people apparently conceive of the word's meaning as "a person who has given birth in earlier times," or "a person who has borne burdens in earlier times," as if it was a compound of the prefix fore- and the verb bear. The existence of the verb forbear has probably reinforced this notion, even though that verb means "to restrain oneself from doing something" and has lost its original meaning of "to endure." At any rate, the noun forebearer is sometimes found in place of forebear even in edited prose in sentences like His forebearers had crossed the Appalachians shortly after the American Revolution. The Usage Panel rejects this usage strongly but not overwhelmingly. In fact, 36 percent accepted this sentence in our 2008 survey, suggesting that forebearer may soon be a word whose time has come.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.
American Heritage Dictionary Products
The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
The American Heritage Roget's Thesaurus
Curious George's Dictionary
The American Heritage Children's Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
The American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary
The American Heritage Desk Dictionary + Thesaurus
The American Heritage Science Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms
The American Heritage Student Dictionary
The American Heritage Essential Student Thesaurus