In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...
, an antecedent
is a noun, noun phrase, or clause to which an anaphor
In linguistics, anaphora is an instance of an expression referring to another. Usually, an anaphoric expression is represented by a pro-form or some other kind of deictic--for instance, a pronoun referring to its antecedent...
refers in a coreference
In linguistics, co-reference occurs when multiple expressions in a sentence or document refer to the same thing; or in linguistic jargon, they have the same "referent."...
. For example, in the passage "I did not see John
because he wasn't there", "John" is the antecedent of the anaphor "he"; together "John" and "he" are called a coreference because they both refer to the same thing (in this case, a particular person). The word "antecedent" begins with the prefix "ante-", meaning "before", because almost always the antecedent occurs before the anaphor.
In the examples in this article, antecedents are in bold
and anaphors in italics.
Use with relative pronouns
Antecedents are used in connection with relative pronoun
A relative pronoun is a pronoun that marks a relative clause within a larger sentence. It is called a relative pronoun because it relates the relative clause to the noun that it modifies. In English, the relative pronouns are: who, whom, whose, whosever, whosesoever, which, and, in some...
s; the pronoun usually opens the relative clause
A relative clause is a subordinate clause that modifies a noun phrase, most commonly a noun. For example, the phrase "the man who wasn't there" contains the noun man, which is modified by the relative clause who wasn't there...
, but the antecedent is located in the main clause:
- As I was going up the stairs, I met a little man who wasn't there.
Sometimes the relative pronoun anaphor may not appear, but may be implied by syntactic principles; this is called a zero anaphor
- I know the book you want. (=I know the book that you want.)
An antecedent may also be a clause
In grammar, a clause is the smallest grammatical unit that can express a complete proposition. In some languages it may be a pair or group of words that consists of a subject and a predicate, although in other languages in certain clauses the subject may not appear explicitly as a noun phrase,...
as in this example:
- "I guess he's enjoying himself."
- "Yes, that is right"
Separation of antecedent from anaphor
In the following example the antecedent is separated from the anaphor by the verb.
- A situation has arisen that calls for immediate action.
Different languages allow separation of the anaphor from the antecedent to varying degrees. For example, in Arabic and Hebrew it is not permitted at all (the antecedent must always come right before the relative pronoun or conjunction or clause), in English it is used to avoid awkward constructions, and in German such separation is frequent due to the practice of shunting the verb to the end of the sentence.
Occasionally the antecedent may be preceded by its anaphor:
- If they are careful, people don't make that mistake.
An error in writing which leads to confusion in the reader is the use of a pronoun for which the antecedent is not clear, as in the following example:
- I met John and Mike at the party. He told me about his new friend.
Without additional information, the reader cannot tell whether the antecedent of he and his is John or Mike.
Occasionally, the antecedent may be missing from the discourse, as when someone wonders out loud: "I wonder where I put it", with no clear antecedent for the pronoun "it."
Sometimes an antecedent may not occur in the current discourse but instead refer to an object familiar to both speaker and listener; for example, in They always get their man the unspecified antecedent of they could be "the FBI" when the sentence is spoken by and to people who often refer to it. In this case, the antecedent is clear to an "insider" but unclear to an "outsider".
- Generic antecedent
Generic antecedents are representatives of classes, referred to in ordinary language by another word , in a situation in which gender is typically unknown or irrelevant. These mostly arise in generalizations and are particularly common in abstract, theoretical or strategic discourse...
- Nearest referent
The nearest referent is a grammatical term sometimes used when two or more possible referents of a pronoun, or other part of speech, cause ambiguity in a text...
- Possessive antecedent
In English grammar, a pronoun has a possessive antecedent if its antecedent appears in the possessive case; for example, in the following sentence, Winston Churchill is a possessive antecedent, serving as it does as the antecedent for the pronoun him:In the 1960s , some usage guides started to...