Ancestor vs Descendant

The English words ancestor and descendant are sometimes confused by native speakers. In fact, they’re exact opposites.


Ancestor refers to those who came before – one’s forebears. Usually this means parents, grandparents, etc.

Alejandro’s ancestors came from Italy and Spain.

Sanjay’s ancestors were from India.

Ancestors can also refer to a group of people that came before but that are not necessarily directly related.

Evidence indicates that our earliest ancestors originated in Africa.

It is believed that the ancestors of the Native Americans crossed over from Asia thousands of years ago.

Ancestor can also refer to objects such as inventions

The ancestor of the CD player was the phonograph.


Descendant refers to a relative or related item that came after.

King George the III was a direct descendant of King George the II.

Are today’s reptiles descendants of dinosaurs?

The descendant of the phonograph is the CD player.

The Bottom Line

The confusion between ancestor and descendant is often a careless mistake. For those unsure of the difference, remember ancestor comes first in the dictionary and in life. Your ancestors are at the top: they came first, then you, then your descendents, who are at the bottom.