Antecedent Definition and Useful Examples in English Grammar

What is an antecedent? Are you searching for the definition of this term? In this article, we are going to take a look at the meaning of antecedent and some useful examples with different types of pronouns.


What Is An Antecedent?

It is a word that is replaced by another word in the course of the sentence. In most cases, antecedents are replaced by pronouns. In the sentence “When Mary felt unwell, she was rushed to the nearby hospital,” “Mary” is the antecedent to the pronoun “she.” Understanding the relationship between the two is very important when it comes to mastery of English. In simple terms, an antecedent is a noun that comes before the use of the pronoun in a sentence.

Antecedent Examples

  • The suitcase was rarely opened. It had five golden rings.

In this example, “the suitcase” is the antecedent “it” is the pronoun.

By doing away with the independent clause, it wouldn’t be clear as to what is being referred to by the pronoun “it.”

It’s a grammatical rule for the antecedent to appear in an independent clause while the pronoun appears in a dependent clause.

  • In order to overcome it, Jane had to turn off the light.

In this sentence, “it” comes before the “the light.” “The light” is still the antecedent since the noun is part of the independent clause. Antecedent will always be part of the independent clause and not the dependent one.

In English, an antecedent is meant to recognize a noun before a pronoun is used. A pronoun is used after the noun has been introduced.

Antecedents Featuring Personal Pronouns

Examples of Personal Pronouns

  • He/him
  • We/us
  • She/her
  • They/them
  • You/you
  • It/it
  • I/me

An antecedent has to be defined before any pronoun can be used.

Here is an example with no antecedent:

  • Alone he went to school.

In this sentence, who is “he?” with no antecedent, it’s not clear.

An example containing an antecedent:

  • James found me at home. Together we went to school.

Here, the personal pronoun “we” is very precise because it comes after the antecedent “James” and “I.”

An example of a sentence with a personal pronoun

  • Mary loved her pet.

Here, “her” is the personal pronoun and is tolerable since the antecedent “Mary” has already been identified. It would be difficult for the readers to know the owner of the dog is without Mary. The fact is that the pet belongs to her, but we wouldn’t know who she is. Thus the need for antecedent.

Antecedents Featuring Demonstrative Pronouns

They include this, that, these, and those.

Just like with any other pronoun, an antecedent has to be introduced before a demonstrative pronoun is used.

Examples of demonstrative pronouns with antecedent

  • You work smart. I want to work like that.

Here, “work” is the antecedent, and the demonstrative pronoun is “that.”

  • I had at first doubted the machine, but I was ill-advised. This works properly.

Here “machine” is the antecedent, and the demonstrative pronoun is “this.”

Antecedents Featuring Relative Pronouns

Examples of relative pronouns are who, whom, that, which, were among others.

Relative pronouns come after the antecedent has been identified. In most cases, they’re applied in clauses.

Examples of Antecedents Containing Relative Pronouns

  • The teacher who addressed the guests was wearing a black suit.

Here, “The teacher” is the antecedent to shed light on “who,” which is the relative pronoun.

  • My native school, where I studied, was on fire yesterday.

The antecedent“my native school” sheds light on “where,” which is the relative pronoun.

Pronoun and Antecedent Agreement

Pronouns and antecedents have to agree if they are to make sense in a sentence. For instance, if an antecedent is in a singular form, the pronoun has to be in a singular form as well.

Here is an example of correct singular:

  • David took a pen. He wrote with it.

“A pen” is a singular noun and is the antecedent that defines “it” as the singular pronoun.

Here is an example of incorrect singular

  • David took a pen. He wrote with them.

This sentence is grammatically incorrect since the antecedent is in singular form while the pronoun is in the plural. They all have to be in the same tense.

Here is an example of the correct plural

  • Mary had two skirts. She loved them.

“Skirts” is in plural form, and the pronoun is also plural, making the sentence correct.

Here is an example of an incorrect plural

  • Mary had two skirts. She loved it.

This is grammatically incorrect since the “skirts,” which is the antecedent is in the plural, and the pronoun “it” is in the singular form.

Antecedent Infographic