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Explanation and Examples of Antecedent

Puja Lalwani Oct 8, 2018
Technicality is an important aspect of the English language (spoken or written), which is usually overlooked. Here, we identify antecedents by looking at some antecedent examples, as one of the many technical aspects that make up the English language.
We often speak the way we think sounds correct. However, sometimes, we may be wrong, and though something sounds correct, it may not always be so. In the English language, we are likely to make such mistakes because of lack of knowledge of its technical aspects.
To correct one of these errors, here we talk about the meaning of an antecedent by giving you some antecedent examples.


An antecedent is a word, phrase, or clause replaced by a pronoun in any sentence. A simple example is, 'Ruth scurried around looking for her bag.' In this sentence, Ruth is the antecedent to the pronoun her. However, not every sentence may be as simple as this example.
It is likely that there may be complex sentences, in which the antecedents may not be clear. For instance, 'Susan is Sandra's best friend. She always tells her everything.' Here, who 'she' is and who 'her' is, is not clear. While it may be assumed that the pronouns are respective to the antecedents, it may not be necessarily so.

List of Examples

As mentioned earlier, there are several examples and the rules pertaining to each vary based on the type of sentence or phrase that is being written or said. Usually, there are lots of errors made when it comes to antecedents in the singular or plural context. In simple terms, the pronoun must agree in number with its antecedent.
When you use a singular one, it is followed by the use of a singular pronoun (or what is known as a referent in relation to an antecedent). Similarly, when you use a plural antecedent, it is followed by a plural pronoun. This is known as the pronoun-antecedent agreement. All this has been explained by means of some examples.

Rule 1: Subject/Object

Example: I get worried when my employees let their hair down.
Example: School psychologists note the importance for every student to express her emotions.
Here, the antecedent is the object (employees) and not the subject (I). As such, the referent pronoun pertains to the antecedent that is the object. Similar is the case in the second example.
Example: The bag of marbles will not lose itself.
Here, the antecedent is the subject (bag) and not object (marbles). As such, the referent pronoun pertains to the antecedent that is the subject.
Example: Adam wants to study law; he finds it interesting.
Here, both the subject and the object are antecedents, which have been replaced by respective pronouns in the following sentence. The reference to each noun by the use of an appropriate referent pronoun is clear.

Rule 2: (Multiple) Antecedents Joined by 'AND'

Example: Sandra and Susan changed their clothes.
Here, both, 'Sandra' and 'Susan' are the antecedents, and are mentioned together with the use of 'and'. Therefore, the referent pronoun 'their' will be plural.
Example: The girls and their boyfriends changed their clothes.
Both the antecedents here are in their plural forms, leading to the use of a plural referent.

Rule 3: (Multiple) Antecedents Joined by 'OR/NOR'

Example: Either Adam or Ted will get his car.
Example: Neither Susan, nor Sandra, changed her clothes.
Two singular antecedents separated by 'or' or 'nor' will have a singular referent.
The rule of the singular referent is also applicable to indefinite pronouns such as each, some, nobody, everyone, everybody, anything, someone, no one, etc.
Example: Each of the boys brought his own books.
ExampleSomeone is making his presence felt.
Example: Everybody has to give her or his advice when it comes to dating.
Example: Neither the fathers, nor the daughter ate her food.
In this example, we see one plural and one singular antecedent. The antecedent closer to the verb will give the referent its form. As such, the antecedent 'daughter' will have a singular 'referent'.
Example: Neither the daughter, nor the fathers ate their food.
Here, the antecedent closer to the verb is plural, and therefore, the referent is plural.

Rule 4: Countable/Uncountable Antecedents

Example: None of the food remained in its original form.
Example: All the music retained its originality.
Food/music is an uncountable noun used in a singular form in this statement. As such, its referent will be singular.
Example: All the CDs were kept in their respective cases.
Example: Some of documents were not in their files.
CDs and documents are both countable nouns that require the use of plural referents when used in their plural forms.

Rule 5: Collective Nouns as Antecedents

Example: The group dispersed as soon as it was asked to.
Example: The book club asked its members to read the works of Shakespeare.
Here, group and book club are collective nouns, i.e. nouns that comprise numerous units to make a single unit. As such, they will have singular referents.
Example: The leaders of the group asked their group members to disperse immediately.
Example: The readers of the book club refused to read what they had been asked to.
When units within the collective unit are referred to in their plural form, the referents will also be plural.

Rule 6: Clause Antecedents

Example: "They are struggling to meet the deadline."
"Yes, that is very evident from the way they are working."
Example: "My aim is to find life on other planets."
"You must start working immediately if you want to do that."
Here, entire clauses are antecedents, that have been referred to as a singular antecedent by the use of the pronoun 'that'. The use of a referent for an entire clause antecedent will always be singular.

Rule 7: The Use of Who/Whom/Whoever/Whose as Antecedents

Example: I am looking for an individual who is capable of performing these demanding tasks.
Example: That is the student whose mother is a lawyer.
In these instances, 'who' and 'whose' have been used as referents to noun antecedents. However, there are instances where these terms may be antecedents themselves. Let's take a look at the following examples to understand this.
Example: Who do you think will get the best grades? (Do you think she will get the best grades?)
Example: Whom will you choose as your date for the prom? (Will you choose him?)
Example: Whose bag is lying unattended? (Is your bag lying unattended?)
As you can see in these examples, the antecedent (itself a pronoun) may be part of a question, and to understand which referent to use, you may have to mentally use the referent in an answer.
With the aforementioned examples, you have learned what an antecedent is, and how you can use it effectively. This will improve your grammar and composition skills greatly, and will help you master the art of correct sentence construction.