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.
An antecedent usually comes before its anaphor.
- If you see Ram, give him your shirt. (Antecedent – Ram; anaphor – him)
- He went to his shop. (Antecedent – he; anaphor – his)
- Ravi injured himself playing Volleyball. (Antecedent – Ravi; anaphor – himself)
An antecedent occasionally follows its anaphor.
An anaphor that precedes its antecedent is sometimes called a cataphor.
- If you see him, give Ram your shirt.
Antecedent and its anaphor can be in different sentences.
- Palaniappan is my brother. He is a merchant. (Antecedent – Palaniappan; anaphor – he)
An antecedent can be a verb phrase, an adjective phrase or a prepositional phrase.
- My father asked me to open the door and I did it. (The antecedent ‘open the door’ is the verb phrase)
- John thought Devi was in hospital, but he didn’t find her there. (The antecedent ‘in hospital’ is the prepositional phrase)
Antecedent can be a complete sentence.
- Sita: Arun is teaching English.
- Ragu: Who told you that?
The anaphor ‘that’ refers to the complete sentence ‘Arun is teaching English’.