ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

English grammar: anaphora

Updated on February 7, 2015

Many word lovers have seen an unpunctuated sentence with the challenge to punctuate it to achieve a particular understanding. And many older folks have heard of the song “Throw Mama from the Train a Kiss, a Kiss.”

Both of these are examples of improper grammatical usage of anaphora, or backward reference. The reader cannot properly associate the subject and object.

When using a pronoun reference, the basic rule of thumb is to refer back to the closest noun, such as in “When I wrote to my son, he responded very quickly.” The reference to “he” goes to the closest previous noun, “my son”. This is an obvious reference. But even one like this can become hard to follow if it is embedded with a lot of phrases and clauses:

“I wrote to my son yesterday when I realized that I had forgotten his birthday. But, in that charming way some people have, and with a flower tended to show no hard feelings, he simply said he loved me.”

In this example, “I” and “me” refer to the mother or father; “his” and “he” refer to the son. Even this is a simple example. Anaphora must have strictly local antecedents to which they bind. A reflexive pronoun must be bound within the smallest category containing it, its selecting head and a subject; this is referred to as the pronoun’s governing category. If the anaphor is gender-specific (male, female, neutral), the writer needs to be careful that there is only one possible noun to be bound to. This is referred to as the resolution of an anaphora.

Resolution is often lost when sentences are taken out of context. Consider the statement “The President addressed a Brownies troop from Pennsylvania. He suggested that the girls have more to offer than most people expect.” “The girls” refers to young women in Girls Scouts and how even at a young age, they have a lot to offer. But if the second sentence was removed and published without the first, this could start quite a controversy, as readers assume he is referring to women of all ages. The simple reference to girls rather than women would cause an uproar. The anaphor must be resolved.

It is imperative that a writer keep anaphora resolved, to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. A zero anaphor is one in which the reference is one of verb tense or subject/verb resolution. For instance, if one uses a defined number in the subject, there may be parts of the predicate which appear to conflict, when in actuality they do not. For instance, “My two favorite hobbies are stamp collection and hide and seek.” “Hide and seek” is actually a unit, rather than two separate items, so the subject and predicate actually do agree. Another more common problem with anaphora is the use of a multiple subjects and keeping the verb proper. In the sentence “Me, my sister and my mother has control of the property,” There are two serious and common errors. The first is that “Me” is actually a subject, and as such should be “I”. The other is that a writer tends to work with the latest entry rather than the whole; “…my mother has control…” sounds right. But in truth there are three subjects, and so the verb should be “are” instead. This problem with subject/verb agreement is constantly seen in student writing, professional writing, television and movies.

© 2015 Bonnie-Jean Rohner

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)