Antecedent and Anaphor

An antecedent is a linguistic expression which provides the interpretation for a second expression (anaphor) which has little meaning of its own. An antecedent is usually a noun phrase. In the examples given below, the first bold item is the antecedent and the second is the anaphor referring to it.

  • If you see Alice, give her my love. (Antecedent – Alice; anaphor – her)
  • She ran into her room. (Antecedent – She; anaphor – her)
  • John injured himself playing cricket. (Antecedent – John; anaphor – himself)

An antecedent usually comes before its anaphor. Occasionally it follows its anaphor.

  • If you see her, give Alice my love.

An anaphor that precedes its antecedent is sometimes called a cataphor.

It is possible for the antecedent and its anaphor to be in different sentences.

  • Alice is my sister. She is an architect. (Antecedent – Alice; anaphor – she)

It is possible for an antecedent to be a verb phrase, an adjective phrase or a prepositional phrase.

  • She asked me to post the letter and I did it. (Here the antecedent is the verb phrase – post the letter)
  • I thought she was in the room, but I didn’t find her there. (Here the antecedent is the prepositional phrase – in the room)

The antecedent can also be a complete sentence.

  • Alice: John is getting married.
  • Peter: Who told you that?

Here the anaphor that refers to the entire sentence ‘John is getting married’.