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Term Definition

An antecedent logically shows up at the correct time in an ordered series. It can also give specific meaning to a pro-adverb, pro-verb or pro-noun.

What is an antecedent?

An antecedent is a phrase in an earlier part of the sentence that is referred to by a pronoun (or other "pro-form") later on in the sentence. We said that "its main purpose" is to help you out. The antecedent of this phrase is "this website"; without the antecedent, what comes afterwards wouldn't make any sense.  

Using the term correctly

Here is an example of the antecedent being used correctly in a sentence. 

"The politicians kept telling different audiences whatever they wanted to hear; and this proved to the man that he was right in thinking they had no integrity. 

In this sentence, the entire part before the semicolon is the antecedent of "this"; and "man" is the antecedent of "he"; and "politicians" is the antecedent of "they". 

Now, here is an example of the antecedent being used in an incorrect way

"The man no longer visits the restaurant because he gave them food poisoning." 

Either this sentence is saying something very strange, or there are two disagreements present between the antecedent and the pro-form. 

In case you are still confused, here are some guidelines you can follow in order to make sure that you are using the antecedent properly. 

  1. The antecedent is a part of the sentence that is referred to by a later part of the sentence. So, first identify the pro-form in the later part, and then follow it back to the original antecedent to which it refers. 
  2. We are saying pro-form and not just pronoun, because the antecedent could really be several different parts of speech. For example, if we were to say that your parents worked hard and you should do the same, the antecedent would be a verb. 
  3. You always have to make sure that the pro-form lines up with its proper antecedent. It is easy to get this confused, especially if you are talking are writing quickly. 

The usefulness of antecedents

The antecedent is extremely useful in the English language because without the relationship between the antecedent and its pro-form, it would be necessary to be rather redundant when trying to express many kinds of ideas. For example, it would not be possible to say, "The man went to the park, and he had lunch there;" one would have to say, "The man went to the park, and the man had lunch there." The antecedent allows you to formulate the sentence in the first way, because through it, you can proceed on the assumption that the listener will know that the pronoun in a later part of the sentence is referring back to something in an earlier part of the sentence. 

One key problem that inheres to the use of the antecedent, though, has to do with getting the relationship between the pro-form and antecedent confused. You need to structure your sentences in such a way that the reader immediately knows what pro-form is connected to what antecedent. An easy mistake to make is to use the pro-form in such a way that you refer back to an antecedent you actually used several sentences ago, or even just had in mind without actually making clear. This would obviously make it difficult for your reader (and especially your professor) to follow your train of thought.

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Synonyms: antecedent

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