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The cataphora reverses the normal pattern of the pronoun referring back to a noun by first using the pronoun and then introducing the noun. The effect is that the reader is put into a state of suspense, because he does not initially know who or what the sentence is talking about. This gives the writer the opportunity to surprise the reader by associating the initial characterization with an unexpected noun.

What is cataphora?

Cataphora is a figure of speech or literary device in which a pronoun or pro-verb used initially in a sentence refers to an expression or subject which is used afterward. It is the opposite of anaphora, which places the pronoun or pro-verb later than the expression or subject in a sentence. The word “cataphora” is derived from the Greek kataphora. Kata means “downwards” and pherō means “I carry”; thus the whole meaning of the word is “a downward motion.” Both anaphora and cataphora are types of endophora. Cataphora is much less frequent across different languages than anaphora.


Since this can be a confusing term, some examples are in order

Example 1: If you want some, I’ve just made a fantastic loaf of banana bread.

(The word “some” refers to the banana bread, which has not been used in the conversation up until that point. In order to the listener to know what the speaker is talking about, the speaker must name the object that “some” refers to later in the same sentence. Thus, “some” is an instance of cataphora in a sentence.)

Example 2: After she was assigned a polite and respectful writer, the girl became less nervous about buying an essay.

(Here, the word “she” is cataphora, referring to the girl, which is only mentioned later in the sentence.)

Example 3: Once it landed safely, the helicopter opened its doors.

(Here, cataphora is present where “it” is used initially refer to the helicopter, which is mentioned in the second portion of the sentence.)

Cataphora can also be used in more formal language, or cross-linguistically, as in the following example:

Example 4: This is what he believed: that all men were created equal.

Usage and endophora 

Although cataphora used with a pronoun or pro-verb prior to the subject in a sentence is fairly uncommon cross-linguistically (across different languages), cataphora used as an antecedent which is an entire sentence is fairly common.

Some examples are:

  1. I should have known it: The task is simply too difficult. (German translation: Ich hätte es wissen müssen: Die Aufgabe ist einfach zu schwer.)
  2. After adding 1 to both sides, we arrive at the following: x = y.

Since both anaphora and cataphora are types of endophora, it is useful to have an exact definition of this term for complete understanding of these terms. Endophora is an expression (noun, pronoun, pro-verb, or verb) which refers to something mentioned elsewhere in the same sentence. It can consist of two phrases joined together or two or more sentences. If an expression is exophoric, then there is an unidentified pronoun within a sentence or phrase which is undefined. For example, if the sentence reads “She was running through the breaking waves at the edge of the beach” then the reader does not know who “she” refers to. The information needed in order to determine who “she” is lies outside the sentence itself; thus it is exomorphic.

There is also a third subcategory of endophora, self-reference. Self-reference happens in both formal and natural languages, and is used when a sentence, idea, or even a formula refers to itself. This can occur through encoding or through direct referencing. Self-reference, in addition to language, linguistics, research paper writing, and literary uses, is used in computer programming, philosophy, and even mathematics. Self-reference can often be paradoxical.

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