I am looking for the etymology of the Latin adjective "anterior" (which is also a Spanish word, with the same meaning). Neither Wiktionary nor L&S provide hints on its etymology. It seems intuitive to me that this word derives from the combination of "ante" and "prior". The latter, in its adjective form is declined in the third declension, just as anterior is.

But, is this the etymology of the word? In particular, in which sense would be anterior the combination of the meanings of ante and prior? For what I can see, anterior more or less inherited without modification some of the meanings of these words (Wiktionary etymology 1 from 1 of adverb of ante, and etymology 2 from 1 of adjective of prior. But then why a new word?

  • 1
    Here's another example of a comparative adjective formed from an adverb: cis adverb =on this side; citerior adjective =nearer on this side, hithermost.
    – Hugh
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 13:15
  • 1
    @Hugh Citerior apparently comes from citer. Anterior is late Latin, according to L&S. Not sure about the technical names of the processes, but maybe the fact it's not classical supports the idea the ending was derived by analogy with postea > poster(us) > posterior, through a non-existent (overcorrected?) *anterus
    – Rafael
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 12:05
  • @Rafael Infra is another interesting form. Does that spell out the same way?
    – Hugh
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 15:31
  • Apparently infer is the Latin for "Bring it on!"
    – Hugh
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 15:44
  • @Hugh for inferior you have the adj. inferus. I wrote an answer on anterus since I think it was answer worthy with a bit more evidence I found.
    – Rafael
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 19:25

2 Answers 2


I don't find any evidence of anterior containing prior. Rather I would guess that ante was extended by two suffixes, the contrastive suffix -ter- (also seen in e.g. alter), and the regular comparative suffix -ior.

Admittedly, if one just strings the parts together, one obtains *anteterior, but, I consider a simplification to anterior by haplology an obvious development.

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    Reinforced, no doubt, by analogy with posterior, interior, exterior.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 15:33

It is most probably either a regular comparative or one built by analogy to other regular comparatives.

Not sure if it is possible to prove or disprove the existence of and adj. *anterus to which anterior would be the comparative, in the same way that posterior is of posterus.

Posterus is the adj., postea the adverb. *Anterus would be the adj. corresponding to adv. antea.

About the existence of *anterus and the hypothesis that anterior is its regular comparative, I found two pieces of evidence: a XIX century lexicon by a Latin Professor at Oxford and a XV century book actually written in Latin by a prominent Flemish humanist (according to wp).

Now, L&S says anterior is late Latin and cites Sulpicius Severus using the word as early as the V century. Whether *anterus existed or not (at least in spoken) at that time, I haven't been able to find any evidence. The fact that it doesn't show up in good dictionaries or corpora is a good argument against its popularity. But even if it did not exist, the -r- could have been derived (as an innovation) by analogy with postea > posterus > posterior

As noted by Colin and Hugh, the same analogy works with other adverb/adjective pairs:

  • infra/inferus/inferior
  • intus/internus(?)/interior
  • extra/exterus/exterior

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