Antecedent definition: An antecedent is a noun that must precede the use of a pronoun.
What is An Antecedent?
What are antecedents? An antecedent, sometimes called a pronoun antecedent, can be any noun. However, it is only called an antecedent once a pronoun is used. A pronoun cannot be used without an antecedent. In this way, pronouns and antecedents are invariably linked.
An example will help clarify this concept.
- The box remained open. In it were three beautiful gifts.
Here, “the box” is the antecedent for the pronoun “it” in the following sentence.
If the first sentence did not exist, it would be unclear what “it” is. “The box” precedes the pronoun “it.”
If a pronoun is used in a dependent clause, the antecedent will always be in the independent clause.
Let’s take a look at another example.
- In order to jump over it, Jared had to lower the hurdle.
Here, “it” seems to precede “the hurdle.” However, “the hurdle” is the antecedent because that noun is in the independent clause. The antecedent will always be placed in the independent clause, regardless of the placement of a dependent clause.
In English, an antecedent must be used to identify a noun before a pronoun is introduced. Once the antecedent has been used initially, it is completely acceptable to use a pronoun thereafter.
Antecedents with Personal Pronouns
Subject/Object Personal Pronouns:
- you/you (singular and plural)
As with all other pronouns, an antecedent must be identified before a personal pronoun is used.
Example without antecedent:
- Together they went to the fair.
In this example, who are “they?” Without an antecedent, it is unclear.
Example with an antecedent:
- Erik arrived at Julia’s house at noon. Together they went to the fair.
Here, the use of the personal pronoun “they” is completely acceptable because the antecedent (in this case, “Erik” and “Julia”) is used prior to “they.”
Example with personal pronoun in same sentence:
- Rachel loved her dog.
In this example, the personal pronoun “her” is acceptable because the antecedent “Rachel” is identified. Without Rachel, the audience would not know to whom the dog belonged. It would belong to “her,” but who is she? The antecedent is required.
Antecedents with Demonstrable/Demonstrative Pronouns
- this (singular)
- that (singular)
- these (plural)
- those (plural)
As with all other pronouns, an antecedent must be identified before a demonstrative pronoun is used.
Examples without antecedent:
- I want my hair to look like that. (Like what? What is that?)
- This tastes delicious. (What is this?)
Examples with antecedent:
- Your hair is beautiful. I want my hair to look like that.
- This example clarifies “hair” as the antecedent to the demonstrative pronoun “that”.
- I had my doubts about the seafood but I was wrong. This tastes delicious.
- This example clarifies “seafood” as the antecedent to the demonstrative pronoun “this”.
Note: Demonstrative pronouns refer to something very specific.
Antecedents with Relative Pronouns
As with all other pronouns, an antecedent must be identified before a relative pronoun is used.
Often, relative pronouns are used in clauses.
Examples with Relative Pronouns:
- The man who drove the bus was wearing black boots.
- “The man” is the antecedent to clarify the relative pronoun “who.”
- My local farmer’s market, where I purchase my produce, was crowded this weekend.
- “My local farmer’s market” is the antecedent to clarify the relative pronoun “where.”
What is Pronoun and Antecedent Agreement?
Pronoun antecedent agreement definition: Without exception, antecedents and pronouns must agree. This means that if a sentence uses a singular antecedent, it must also use a singular pronoun.
Correct singular example:
- Farah ate an apple. She enjoyed it.
- “An apple” is a singular noun and is the antecedent for the singular pronoun “it”.
Incorrect singular example:
- Farah ate an apple. She enjoyed them.
- This example is not grammatically correct. There is no plural antecedent so the plural pronoun “them” cannot be used.
Correct plural example:
- Farah ate two apples. She enjoyed them.
- “Apples” is a plural noun and is the antecedent for the plural pronoun “them”.
Incorrect plural example:
- Farah ate two apples. She enjoyed it.
- This example is not grammatically correct. There is a plural antecedent so a plural pronoun needs to be used. “It” cannot replace “apples”
Some antecedents can be difficult because they seem like they are plural when in fact they are singular.
A few examples include:
Tricky pronouns in use:
- Everyone enjoyed his
- Everyone sounds like a group of people. However, “one” is singular. This may seem confusing. “Everyone” refers to each person individually. That is why it is singular.
- Neither Jack nor Jill made his way up the hill.
- It may seem like “their” would be the proper pronoun here. However, “his” is correct because neither refers to each person individually.
- Each book has a label on it.
- Many people think that “them” would be the correct pronoun instead of “it”. However, “it” is correct because this sentence refers to each book individually.
Note: These examples use the masculine singular pronoun “his.” In most writing and grammatical forums, it is acceptable to use “he/his” instead of “he or she/his or her.”
Summary: What is an Antecedent in Grammar?
Define antecedent: An antecedent is a word to which another word, usually a pronoun, refers.
There are a number of things that you need to keep in mind with antecedents in grammar. Here are a few things to remember,
- Antecedents and pronouns are invariably linked.
- Antecedents are sometimes called pronoun antecedents.
- Antecedents must be identified before pronouns are used.
- Antecedents must agree in number and case with their pronouns.
- This is called pronoun antecedent agreement.