Definition of prefigure in English:



[with object]
  • 1Be an early indication or version of (something)

    ‘the Hussite movement prefigured the Reformation’
    • ‘Going yet further, because events in the Old Testament are read as foreshadowing parts of the life of Christ, Noah prefigures Christ.’
    • ‘Yet his opposition to racism won him strong support among northern free blacks, particularly in New England, and in this respect his activities prefigured the civil rights movement of the 1960s.’
    • ‘But even the most cynical observers could not easily have looked ahead one year and have prefigured a scenario by which conditions in the district that had won this legal victory would actually get worse.’
    • ‘Tarkovsky sublimely prefigures space exploration with a five minute sequence of cars winding through the tunnels and overpasses of a modern Russian city.’
    • ‘This moment prefigures the climactic reunion at the church meeting; it includes the same kind of call and response.’
    • ‘The black church's historic role in providing education, social services, and a safe gathering place prefigured its historic role in the civil rights movement.’
    • ‘It's really a dark piece of work, pretty much driven by Mozart's guilt over his father's death; in a lot of ways, I think it prefigures his requiem mass.’
    • ‘It was prefigured by earlier productions in 1911 and 1916.’
    • ‘Yet it contains an important truth - that the style and tone of a government are set early and do prefigure future actions.’
    • ‘The travelogue prefigures his style - limpid narrative, minute detailing, wide-ranging, seamlessly fitting intertextual references, snatches of reverie, bursts of humour.’
    • ‘However, some panels clearly prefigure his style in later comics like Sin City.’
    • ‘There are several parts of this book that prefigure portions of his later work.’
    • ‘The thrilling flyby of the ring system that Cassini-Huygens will accomplish following Saturn Orbit Insertion prefigures the exciting encounters that are to come in the four-year mission.’
    foreshadow, be an early indication of, presage, be a presage of, be a harbinger of, herald, suggest, indicate, point to
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  • 2archaic Imagine beforehand.

    ‘I lay awake, prefiguring the future’
    • ‘Mead describes human existence as evolving toward an open future that cannot be prefigured with any finality.’


Late Middle English: from ecclesiastical Latin praefigurare ‘represent beforehand’, from prae ‘before’ + figurare ‘to form, fashion’.