Difference Between Antecedent and Precedent

Antecedent vs Precedent

There is a slight difference between antecedent and precedent, though at a glance, one might assume that antecedent and precedent are synonyms because both refer to an event or action of the past. Nevertheless, this is not the case; they mean different things. The Oxford English dictionary defines the word antecedent as a thing that existed before or precedes another. Precedent, on the other hand, is defined as an earlier event or action which serves as an example or guide. Let us try to understand it in this manner. A precedent refers to an action that can be used as an example when taking decisions for similar kinds of situations in the future. However, an antecedent merely refers to anything that precedes an action. The purpose of this article is to provide a basic understanding of the two terms while emphasizing the difference between antecedent and precedent.

What is an Antecedent?

Antecedent is used as a noun and an adjective. As a noun, an antecedent means something that precedes another. As an adjective, it refers to preceding in time or order. In grammar, it is used as an earlier word, phrase or clause to which a pronoun refers to. Look at the following example.

Jane told me that she’d be late for class.

In the example given above, the antecedent is “Jane”. The pronoun “she” refers to Jane. This highlights that it is the antecedent that gives meaning to the pronoun. However, this does not mean that the antecedent has to come before the pronoun. It can even come after the pronoun has been used. However, in all instances the pronoun derives its meaning from the antecedent.

What is a Precedent?

Precedent can also be used as a noun or as an adjective. As a noun, it generally means an earlier event which serves as an example. When it is used as an adjective, it refers to preceding in time, order and importance. In law, the word precedent has a rather specific meaning. In this sense, it refers to a previous case or legal decision that may or must be followed in subsequent similar cases. For example:

Since the region has experienced similar cases in the past six years, the lawyers decided to use them as precedent for John’s case.

This presents the idea that the term precedent is used to refer to past events that can be used as guides for future decisions.

What is the difference between Antecedent and Precedent?

To sum up, we can say antecedent and precedent are both referring to preceding events or actions.

• However, while an antecedent act as a mere referent to preceding events, the role of precedent is broader. It not only acts as the referent for earlier events but also works as an example or guide when taking decisions in the future.

• So, despite the fact that it may appear as rather synonymous to an individual, there is a difference between the two terms, antecedent and precedent.