Definitions

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

  • transitive v. To suggest, indicate, or represent by an antecedent form or model; presage or foreshadow: The paintings of Paul Cézanne prefigured the rise of cubism in the early 20th century.
  • transitive v. To imagine or picture to oneself in advance.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To show or suggest ahead of time; to represent beforehand (often used in a Biblical context)
  • v. To predict or foresee

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • transitive v. To show, suggest, or announce, by antecedent types and similitudes; to foreshadow.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To represent beforehand; show by previous types or figures; foreshow; presage.

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

  • v. indicate by signs
  • v. imagine or consider beforehand

Etymologies

Middle English prefiguren, from Old French prefigurer, from Late Latin praefigūrāre : Latin prae-, pre- + Latin figūrāre, to shape (from figūra, shape).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English prefiguren, from Latin praefigurare, from figurare ("to shape, picture"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • This September, Morgan was playing to a customarily packed house in Dublin when an audience member sitting near an open window heard voices that, she claimed to an Irish radio station the following day, seemed to eerily prefigure the revelations that emerged on stage a few seconds later.

    Among the psychics

  • And this final extract is supposed to prefigure the online horror that nothing can be forgotten once you've sent it out there: “I was struck by the thought that every word I spoke, every expression of my face or motion of my hand would endure in his implacable memory; I was rendered clumsy by the fear of making pointless gestures.”

    Web/Tech

  • Prairie landscapes from 1927 turn a train and tall grain elevators into minimal vertical and horizontal strokes, while roiling clouds and the engine's rising smoke prefigure familiar abstract elements.

    Irascible Still

  • No review could do complete justice to the magnificent two-volume biography that has been so well-wrought by Michael Burlingame, but one way of paying tribute to it is to say that it introduces the elusive idea of destiny from the very start, and one means of illustrating this is to show how the earlier chapters continually prefigure, or body forth, the more momentous events that are to be dealt with in the later ones.

    Lincoln’s Emancipation

  • But these chunky, rock-solid figures make us look back to an earlier drawing on an adjoining wall, a seemingly modest effort that takes on new significance in relation to the hardened forms and incipient geometry of the hefty 1906 figures; made as an homage to Gauguin, in 1902, the robust standing nude not only echoes that artist's monumental Tahitian vahines, but also seems to prefigure Picasso's massive women.

    Portrait of a Restless Artist as a Young Man

  • If global society could achieve unity and peace it would, to that extent, prefigure the final City of God to which the Church directs her own longing (7).

    Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog:

  • The mountain's rumblings also sometimes seemed to people in Java to prefigure political change, including an eruption in 1997 that preceded the resignation of longtime Indonesian President Suharto.

    A Volcano's Sentry to the Very End

  • Their playing was no less gorgeous in Schumann's "Marchenerzahlungen," with its elfin, Mendelssohnian phrases and glowing writing that prefigure the fairy-tale operas of Humperdinck.

    A superlative performance by the Schumann Trio

  • The bluebell has long been one of England's best-loved flowers, though it was once believed to prefigure death.

    The power of spring flowers

  • Today, this device appears to prefigure our current smartphone-iPad-iPhone technology.

    Tom Teicholz: Wallace Berman: The Aleph Male

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