Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A preliminary statement or essay introducing a book that explains its scope, intention, or background and is usually written by the author.
  • n. An introductory section, as of a speech.
  • n. Something introductory; a preliminary: An informal brunch served as a preface to the three-day conference.
  • n. The words introducing the central part of the Eucharist in several Christian churches.
  • transitive v. To introduce by or provide with a preliminary statement or essay.
  • transitive v. To serve as an introduction to.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The beginning or introductory portion that comes before the main text of a document or book.
  • v. To introduce or make a comment before the main point.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Something spoken as introductory to a discourse, or written as introductory to a book or essay; a proem; an introduction, or series of preliminary remarks.
  • n. The prelude or introduction to the canon of the Mass.
  • intransitive v. To make a preface.
  • transitive v. To introduce by a preface; to give a preface to.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To give a preface to; introduce by preliminary written or spoken remarks, or by an action significant of what is to follow.
  • To say as a preface; write or utter in view or explanation of what is to follow.
  • To front; face; cover.
  • To give a preface; speak, write, or do something preliminary to later action.
  • n. A statement or series of statements introducing a discourse, book, or other composition; a series of preliminary remarks, either written or spoken; a prelude.
  • n. [cap, or lowercase] In liturgics, the introductory section of the anaphora; the solemn eucharistic thanksgiving and ascription of glory introducing the canon.
  • n. A title; an introductory or explanatory epithet.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a short introductory essay preceding the text of a book
  • v. furnish with a preface or introduction

Etymologies

Middle English, from Old French, from Latin praefātiō, praefātiōn-, from praefātus, past participle of praefārī, to say before : prae-, pre- + fārī, to speak; see bhā-2 in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
1350–1400; Middle English prefas, which is from Old French preface (from which derives the modern French préface), from Medieval Latin prefatia, for classical Latin praefatio ("a saying beforehand"), from praefor ("to speak beforehand"), from prae- ("beforehand") + for ("to speak") (Wiktionary)

Examples

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  • We all know that pre- means 'before'… so a preface must be something that is 'before the face'. But that doesn't seem right, and a glance in the nearest etymological dictionary meakes it clear that the face part of the word is misleading. 'Preface' comes from an early French form of Latin præfatio, a 'saying beforehand'. A more accurate form in English of the Latin word would therefore have been prefation, the -fation deriving ultimately from the Latin verb fari, fatus 'speak, say'. That same Latin verb leads to other English words: when we talk about what fate has in store for us, for example, we mean 'what has been "spoken" by the gods'. — Leslie Dunkling

    March 23, 2008