Anaphoric, Cataphoric and Exophoric Referencing: A Grammar Guide

Anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric—three words that make you sound smart at a party and even smarter when you understand these grammar concepts.

While these vocabulary words don’t receive much discussion within the classroom, this terminology is relevant to students learning the English language or teachers studying to take the CELTA or DELTA.

It’s also something you apply to most of your conversations and many times in your writing—and you don’t even know it.

So, what is anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric referencing? And what’s an easy way to remember the difference?

What is an Anaphoric Reference?

An anaphoric reference happens when a pronoun, word or phrase refers to a noun mentioned earlier in the conversation or writing. 

Sometimes it occurs within the same sentence, meaning the noun appears sooner in the sentence before the reference word for the noun is applied. Sometimes an anaphoric reference alludes to a noun mentioned a few sentences back or at the beginning of the conversation.

Example:

Derek drove to the park, but he was disappointed to find it already closed.

The pronoun he refers to Derek. The pronoun it refers to the park.

Not every anaphoric reference relies on pronouns. Sometimes a word or phrase can act as a reference to the noun mentioned previously.

Example:

Beatrice grows zucchinis and bell peppers in her garden and shares the vegetables with her siblings.

The vegetables refers to zucchinis and bell peppers. Saying them instead of the vegetables can also be applied here and still be an anaphoric reference.

What is a Cataphoric Reference?

A cataphoric reference happens when a pronoun, word or phrase refers to a noun mentioned later in the writing or the conversation. 

It often occurs within the same sentence, meaning the reference word appears sooner in the sentence before the noun appears. There are still instances where the reference word appears a few sentences ahead before the assigned noun makes an appearance in the conversation or writing.

Example:

Even though she sits at the front of his classroom, Professor Otis still doesn’t know Susan’s name.

The pronoun she refers to Susan. The pronoun his refers to Professor Otis. 

As with an anaphoric reference, a cataphoric reference doesn’t completely rely on pronouns. Sometimes a word or phrase can act as a reference to the noun mentioned later.

Example:

The painting hangs dusty on my wall. I’ve never been a fan anyway of The Starry Night.

The painting refers to The Starry Night. Saying it instead of the painting can also be applied here and still be a cataphoric reference.

What is an Exophoric Reference?

An exophoric reference happens when a pronoun, word or phrase refers to a noun not mentioned within the conversation or writing. An exophoric reference requires shared knowledge between the people within the conversation or between the writer and the readers.

Example:

I told her that she could find it on a map, but you know how she is.

She and her refer to a person not ever mention within the sentence. It refers to a place not ever mentioned within the sentence. How this sentence is conveyed implies that she and it were previously established prior to this sentence.

Anaphoric, Cataphoric and Exophoric Referencing: What’s the Difference?

The easiest way to remember the difference between anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric referencing is to start at the beginning. That is, the beginning of each word.

The prefix for anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric provides clues on how to easily remember the difference between anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric referencing.

Let’s start with exophoric referencing. The prefix of exophoric is exo- which means “outside.” In other words, the noun of an exophoric reference lives “outside” of the conversation or writing.

There’s another term we didn’t cover yet in this blog post: endophoric reference. Since the prefix of endophoric is endo- which means “within,” you can conclude that the noun happens within the conversation or writing. An anaphoric reference and a cataphoric reference are both considered to be an endophoric reference.

But what’s the difference between anaphoric and cataphoric referencing?

Let’s first cover anaphoric referencing. The prefix of anaphoric is ana- which, in this instance, means “up.” More simply, the noun of an anaphoric reference is “up” towards the start of the conversation or writing.

This should make it easier to understand cataphoric referencing. The prefix of cataphoric is cata- which, in this instance, means “down.” To rephrase, the noun of an cataphoric reference is “down” towards the end of the conversation or writing.

Need a go-to cheat sheet? This chart can help you remember the difference between anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric referencing more simply:

Type of ReferenceLocation of Referenced Noun
Anaphoric ReferenceUp (sooner in the sentence)
Cataphoric ReferenceDown (later in the sentence)
Exophoric ReferenceOutside (not in the sentence)

In what ways do you remember the difference between anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric referencing? And how do you apply an anaphoric reference, cataphoric reference and exophoric reference within your conversations or writing? Share in the comments section below.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.