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’.