prel·ude (prāld′, -lyd′; prĕld′, -yd′; prēld′, -lyd′)
1. An introductory performance, event, or action preceding a more important one; a preliminary or preface.
a. A piece or movement that serves as an introduction to another section or composition and establishes the key, such as one that precedes a fugue, opens a suite, or precedes a church service.
b. A similar but independent composition for the piano.
c. The overture to an oratorio, opera, or act of an opera.
d. A short composition of the 1400s and early 1500s written in a free style, usually for keyboard.
v. prel·ud·ed, prel·ud·ing, prel·udes
1. To serve as a prelude to.
2. To introduce with or as if with a prelude.
To serve as a prelude or introduction.
[Medieval Latin praelūdium, from Latin praelūdere, to play beforehand : prae-, pre- + lūdere, to play; see leid- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
pre·ludi·al (prĭ-ldē-əl) adj.
Usage Note: How should prelude be pronounced? In our 2015 survey, 72 percent of the Usage Panel preferred a long a (pronounced “pray”) and 25 percent a short e (pronounced “prell”) for the first syllable. The absence or presence of a glide—a short (y) sound—after coronal consonants such as d, t, or l is a regional variation. People who pronounce duty as (dtē) also tend to omit the glide after the l in prelude: (prāld′). Those who pronounce duty as (dytē) will tend to include the glide: (prālyd′).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.