Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A preliminary statement or essay introducing a book that explains its scope, intention, or background and is usually written by the author.
  • noun An introductory section, as of a speech.
  • noun Something introductory; a preliminary.
  • noun The words introducing the central part of the Eucharist in several Christian churches.
  • transitive verb To introduce by or provide with a preliminary statement or essay.
  • transitive verb To serve as an introduction to.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • 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.
  • noun A statement or series of statements introducing a discourse, book, or other composition; a series of preliminary remarks, either written or spoken; a prelude.
  • noun [cap, or lowercase] In liturgics, the introductory section of the anaphora; the solemn eucharistic thanksgiving and ascription of glory introducing the canon.
  • noun A title; an introductory or explanatory epithet.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • intransitive verb To make a preface.
  • noun 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.
  • noun (R. C. Ch.) The prelude or introduction to the canon of the Mass.
  • noun (Ch. of Eng. & Prot. Epis. Ch.) a portion of the communion service, preceding the prayer of consecration, appointed for certain seasons.
  • transitive verb To introduce by a preface; to give a preface to.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

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

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

  • noun a short introductory essay preceding the text of a book
  • verb furnish with a preface or introduction

Etymologies

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

[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- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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")

Examples

  • Aristotle in his poetic art as an essential part of tragedy, was an even, simple chant, like that which we call the preface to mass, which in my opinion is the Gregorian chant, and not the Ambrosian, and which is a true melopée.

    A Philosophical Dictionary

  • Clearly, the preface is ambivalent; the critique of enthusiasm with which the preface begins undermines its polemic, and vice versa.

    _Alastor_, Apostasy, and the Ecology of Criticism

  • AS a preface is the only place where an author can with propriety explain a purpose or apologize for shortcomings, I venture to avail myself of the privilege to make a statement for the benefit of my readers.

    An Old-Fashioned Girl

  • This preface is undated but, based on the content, it must have been written after his resignation from the Party in March 1916 and during the last few months of his life.

    Jack London's Nonfiction Collection of Unpublished Book Forwards

  • For example, the preface is missing any sort of place-setting.

    Superhero Nation: how to write superhero novels and comic books » A Glimpse into the Editor’s Office: Editing Twilight

  • Like the as-yet-unpublished "Lexicon," Elements contains all manner of facts collated from the object work; unlike that project, it has been published with full consent from the author, if Pullman's preface is anything to go by: "It's flattering, of course, to find one's work the object of such care and attention; but how much more satisfying when the work of reference that results is so accurate, and so interesting, and so good."

    Archive 2008-04-01

  • Like the as-yet-unpublished "Lexicon," Elements contains all manner of facts collated from the object work; unlike that project, it has been published with full consent from the author, if Pullman's preface is anything to go by: "It's flattering, of course, to find one's work the object of such care and attention; but how much more satisfying when the work of reference that results is so accurate, and so interesting, and so good."

    Take that

  • After reading so many in the series, this years preface is a bit too familiar, although he did throw in a couple of funny lines.

    REVIEW: The Year's Best Science Fiction #24 edited by Gardner Dozois

  • His "principal object," he claims in the preface, is to "perpetuate the successful efforts made by him" to improve British soldiers 'diet.

    Alexis Soyer and the Rise of the Celebrity Chef

  • It's been good to compare then and now and Charles Michael's 1905 preface is also interesting,

    Heroines Part Two

Comments

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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