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Anaphoric Reference

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English

An anaphoric reference happens when a word or phrase references something mentioned earlier in the text. This could be a thing/idea mentioned in a previous sentence, or something mentioned a while ago.

To use anaphoric reference correctly, it must be clear what the word or phrase is referring to, especially if it is referencing something much earlier in the text.

Here is an example of an anaphoric reference:

Andy wrote the letter. Later that day, he posted it.

In this example, the word 'he' is referring back to 'Andy' who is mentioned in the first sentence. By using the pronoun we avoid repetition, this is a good use of anaphoric reference. The word 'it' has also been used to replace the word 'letter'.

We sometimes use repetition for emphasis. However, to avoid unnecessary repetition, we use an anaphoric reference instead.

Anaphoric Reference Meaning

Anaphora occurs when the use of an expression relies on another antecedent (previous) expression. It is an expression that can only be contextually understood by another expression in the text that happened before.

Anaphoric reference Image showing a graphic of the sentence 'Titian moved to Venice where he set up studio StudySmarterTitian moved to Venice where he set up studio image, Eva Flowerdew - StudySmarter Original

The graphic above uses the sentence 'Titian moved to Venice, where he set up studio '. In this sentence, 'he' refers back to Titian and so becomes anaphoric - we avoid repeating the name Titian and create a smoother piece of text.

An 'anaphor' is typically used deictically; This means that it is specifying something (often something spatial, an identity, or temporal location) from the writer's or speaker's perspective. It is often used to avoid repetition whenever it is clear from the context of the text who or what is being referred to.

Let's go back to our first example ...

Andy wrote the letter. Later that day, he posted it.

In these two sentences, we can see that the second sentence can only be fully understood within the context of the previous sentence. The antecedent expression ('Andy wrote the letter.') Tells us the information we need to be able to understand the context for the second sentence - and who 'he' is.

  • Anaphoric expression: the pronoun 'he' is an anaphor (it is the word that refers to something in the anaphoric reference).
  • Antecedent expression: the proper noun 'Andy' is the antecedent (it is necessary for the anaphoric reference to happen).

Example Sentences of Anaphoric References

We have now explored how anaphoric references work, and how we would use them to refer to someone in a text. But what else can anaphoric references be used for?

Anaphoric references can also be used to refer to the situation in the previous text, for example:

  • Lucy stepped on the glass. It hurt her foot.

'Lucy' is the subject. In the first sentence, we find out that she 'stepped on glass'. This gives us the context for the next sentence. 'It' is an anaphoric reference to 'the glass' in the previous sentence.

  • Bradley went to the shop. He was disappointed as it was closed.

In these sentences, there are two anaphoric references: 'he' and 'it'. 'He' refers back to 'Bradley', while 'it' refers back to 'the shop'.

Different Types of Anaphora

Now that we have learned about how anaphoric references are used in sentences, we can learn about the two different types of anaphora. These are antecedent anaphora and complement anaphora.

Antecedent Anaphora

This is the more commonly used anaphora, especially when thinking about anaphoric references. We have already explored how it is used, i.e. it uses an antecedent expression in the first part of the text, and then an anaphor in the anaphoric expression that links back to the first part.

Complement Anaphora

Sometimes, anaphoric references are used to refer to something that isn't actually mentioned in the text but can still be understood from the context. Take a look at the example below:

Beth got the promotion at work. He wasn't good enough.

Here, the anaphor 'he' is used to refer to someone that isn't mentioned in the sentence before. It is not referring to 'Beth' (who is the subject of the first sentence) but to someone else instead. However, we can understand from the context of the first sentence that 'he' is referring to a man who hasn't received a promotion.

The first sentence complements the second by giving us enough information to figure out what the anaphoric reference is talking about.

Anaphoric References Uses

Anaphoric references can be used instead of repeating information. Often, they are used when using pronouns instead of proper nouns to refer to someone or something. Take a look at the example below. As you can see, the text is quite repetitive without anaphoric references.

Mary went to pick up a parcel. When Mary arrived the parcel wasn't there. The parcel had been delivered to the wrong place so Mary had to go somewhere else to get the parcel.

Now let's use some anaphoric references to talk about the subject 'Mary' and the object 'parcel'.

Mary went to pick up a parcel. When she arrived it wasn't there. It had been delivered to the wrong place so she had to go somewhere else to get it.

The first sentence 'Mary went to pick up a parcel' works as the antecedent expression for the rest of the text. Because of the context of the first sentence, we know that 'she' is talking about Mary and 'it' refers to the parcel.

Anaphoric vs. Cataphoric References

Cataphoric references are the opposite of anaphoric references. Cataphoric references happen when a word or phrase makes a reference to a thing or idea mentioned later in the text. For example:

Even though I see him every day, I always forget to invite Sam over for a meal.

The wider definition of anaphora actually suggests that cataphoric reference is a type of anaphora. We have seen anaphora relies on context to be understood. To a degree, this definition works for cataphoric references. However, there is a linguistic difference between anaphora and cataphoric reference, especially when we consider the narrower definition of anaphora.

In your exams, it is important to demonstrate an understanding of the difference between a cataphoric and an anaphoric reference. Try to remember that they are opposites of each other.

Anaphoric Reference - Key Takeaways

  • Anaphora is a term to describe when one expression refers to another expression in a text.
  • Anaphoric reference is a term that describes one expression referring to another expression earlier in the text.
  • The anaphoric reference uses an antecedent expression (that holds the information) and an anaphor in the anaphoric expression further on in the text.
  • Anaphoric references are useful to avoid the repetition of information within a text.
  • The more common type of anaphora is called antecedent anaphora - there is also another type of anaphora called complement anaphora.
  • Complement anaphora refers to something other than the information mentioned previously, but by using the context of the previous sentences, the reference is still clear.

Anaphoric Reference

An anaphoric reference is when a word (called an anaphor) refers back to information that has already been given, usually in a previous sentence (this is called the antecedent expression).

Susan watched the cars. She noted down the number plate.


The first sentence works as the antecedent expression, letting us know that the subject is ‘Susan’. With this information, we can work out who the pronoun ‘she’ is referring to in the anaphoric expression.


Cataphoric reference and anaphoric reference are opposites. Anaphoric reference contains an expression that references something already mentioned, cataphoric reference contains an expression that references something yet to be mentioned.

Anaphoric reference is defined as one expression relying on the context and information of an antecedent (previous) expression.

Anaphoric references can be used to avoid the repetition of information.

Final Anaphoric Reference Quiz

Question

What information does an anaphor refer to?

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Answer

Information that has already been given, the anaphor refers back to something previously mentioned in the text.

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Question

What are the two types of anaphora?

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Answer

Antecedent anaphora and complement anaphora.

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Question

What is an antecedent expression?

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Answer

 An antecedent expression gives us the information that the anaphor refers back to. It is the first part of an anaphoric reference.

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Question

Why is complement anaphora different from a normal anaphoric reference?


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Answer

Complement anaphora doesn’t give us the information before the reference. It only gives us enough information that will ‘compliment’ the anaphoric expression.

Show question

Question

True or false: Anaphoric references are similar to cataphoric references.


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Answer

False

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Question

What is an anaphoric reference?

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Answer

An anaphoric reference is when a word (known as an anaphor) refers back to information previously mentioned in the text/discourse.

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Question

Which of the following is the difference between an anaphoric reference and a cataphoric reference?

  1. Anaphoric reference is a short reference whereas cataphoric reference is longer.

  2. Anaphoric reference refers to something previous whereas cataphoric reference refers to something yet to be mentioned.

  3. Anaphoric reference is a reference to a person whereas a cataphoric reference refers to an object.

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Answer

B. Cataphoric reference is referring to information that hasn’t yet been given.

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Question

Why do we use anaphoric references?


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Answer

To avoid the repetition of information.

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Question

What does antecedent mean?


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Answer

'previous'.

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Question

True or false: Anaphora is a type of antecedent.


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Answer

False

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Question

True or false: Cataphora is a type of anaphora.


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Answer

True

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Question

Is the following text an example of an anaphoric reference?


Tom was sad. He had broken his hand.

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Answer

Yes

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Question

What is the definition of anaphora?


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Answer

Anaphora occurs when the use of an expression relies on another antecedent (previous) expression.

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Question

Which of the following is not a type of anaphora?

  1. Complement. 

  2. Antecedent.

  3. Complementary.

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Answer

Complementary

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Question

True or false: Anaphora is a broader term that covers other terms (such as cataphora and the different types of anaphora).


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Answer

True

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Question

True or false: To use anaphoric reference correctly, it must be clear what the word or phrase is referring to.

Show answer

Answer

True

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Question

Anaphoric references are used to ______ repetition

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Answer

avoid

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Question

Anaphoric and cataphoric references are __________.

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Answer

opposites

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Question

Are anaphoric references used in the following sentence?


Mary went to pick up a parcel. When Mary arrived the parcel wasn't there. The parcel had been delivered to the wrong place so Mary had to go somewhere else to get the parcel. 

Show answer

Answer

No

Show question

Question

An anaphoric reference happens when a word or phrase references something mentioned ______ in the text.


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Answer

earlier

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Question

What does antecedent mean?

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Answer

previous

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Question

Anaphora occurs when the use of an expression relies on another __________.


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Answer

antecedent

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Question

Is the following text an example of an anaphoric reference?


Even though I see him every day, I always forget to invite Sam over for a meal.

Show answer

Answer

No

Show question

Question

Is the following text an example of an anaphoric reference?


Susan watched the cars. She noted down the number plate.

Show answer

Answer

Yes

Show question

Question

Which type of anaphora is the most common?

Show answer

Answer

Antecedent anaphora

Show question

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