What is an Antecedent? Definition, Meaning and Examples

EnglishComprehensive EnglishSentence Structure: Elements of Grammar


An antecedent comes before its referent pronoun in a sentence. And it makes the meaning of the sentence clearer to the reader. The writer also gets the liberty to express in different writing styles with antecedents. Antecedents can be a noun, words or word phrases.

Antecedent: Definition and Example

An antecedent is a substantive word, clause or word phrase that is substituted with pronouns generally. An antecedent typically precedes a pronoun or its substitute word.


The teacher could not find her book.

Here, 'her' is the pronoun which refers to the antecedent 'teacher' in the sentence.

Antecedent: Meaning and Overview

An antecedent is a noun, word or word phrase in a sentence. It is replaced by a pronoun later on in the sentence. So, an antecedent comes earlier than the pronoun in the sentence. The referent pronoun indicates the antecedent, so we do not need to repeat it.


He lost the document and searched it everywhere.

Here, in the given sentence, 'document' is the antecedent. And referent pronoun 'it' substitutes the word.

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement and Rules

One of the essential rules of pronoun-antecedent agreement is that the pronoun must agree with the number (singular/plural) of the antecedent. So, the singular pronoun refers to a singular noun (antecedent), and plural pronouns refer to the plural nouns (antecedents).


  • Joseph was selling his handmade art pieces for money.

    Here 'his' is a singular pronoun that refers to the singular antecedent 'Joseph'.

Some more important rules are as follows–

Indefinite Pronoun

If the antecedent is an indefinite pronoun, then the referent pronoun depends on its number. So, singular indefinite pronoun antecedent takes singular pronoun to refer later on. And the plurals will take plural pronouns.


  • Each of the boys wrote well on his chosen topic.

    Here 'each of the boys' is replaced with 'his', which is a singular referent pronoun.

  • Both did great performances in their stage show.

    Here 'both' is replaced with 'their', which works as the plural referent pronoun.

If prepositional phrases like some, any, all, most etc., modify an antecedent, then the pronoun may be singular or plural.


  • Some of the oil leaked out of its can.

    Here 'oil' is a singular (uncountable) noun that works as an antecedent. And the pronoun 'its' is singular too.

Compound Subjects and Pronouns

If we see compound subjects are joined by the word 'and', then the referent pronoun must be plural in number.


  • Jyoti and Pooja prepared their choreography for the dance programme.

    Here 'their' is the plural referent pronoun that refers to both antecedents 'Jyoti' and 'Pooja'.

If we see the subjects are joined in a sentence with 'nor'/'or', then the referent pronoun must agree with the closer antecedent.


  • Neither the principal nor the teachers came to submit their proposals for school funds.

Here 'their' is the referent pronoun that agrees with the antecedent (teachers) closest to it.

Antecedent and Collective Nouns

If there are collective nouns (group, jury, team etc.), then the referent pronoun can either be singular or plural. It depends on the use of the antecedent (collective noun) in the sentence. Generally, the collective noun functions as a single entity. So, we see singular pronouns for such antecedents.


  • The football team was flaunting its cup after winning.

    Here 'team' is the collective noun as an antecedent, and 'its' is the referent pronoun (singular).

  • The football team members were flaunting their medals after winning.

    Here 'team members' is a plural word as an antecedent and referent pronoun: 'their'.

Antecedent and Titles of Single Entities

We see the titles of single entities like country, organization and so on take singular pronouns.


  • Japan is famous for its man-made wonders.

    Here Japan is replaced with the pronoun 'its'.

Subjects that look like plural forms but express singular meaning take singular referent pronouns.


  • The viral news has lost its charm now.

    Here 'news' is the antecedent, and 'its' is the referent singular pronoun.

Every or many

We see 'every' or 'many' take singular referent pronouns in sentences.


  • Every dog and cat gets its yearly vaccination in the animal shelter.

Difference between 'a number of' and 'the number of'

'A number of' signifies plural numbers.


A number of students volunteered to raise environmental awareness in their localities.

(Antecedent is 'students' and referent pronoun is 'their')

'The number of' signifies a singular number.


The number of followers left its leader for ill-treatment.

('Followers' is the antecedent, and 'its' is the singular referent pronoun)

Antecedent and Personal Pronouns

The uses of antecedent with personal pronouns are common in the English language. Personal pronouns like he, him, we, us, I, me, it, they, them, she and her come after the nouns used in sentences as antecedents.


Javed gave me the movie tickets, and together we went to watch the movie.

Here 'we' is the referent pronoun for 'Javed' and 'me'.

Antecedent and Demonstrative Pronouns

These, those, that and this are the demonstrative pronouns which replace antecedents.


He was carrying some jewellery, and he lost those on the way home.

In the above sentence, 'those' is the demonstrative pronoun that substitutes 'jewellery'.

Antecedent and Relative Pronouns

Who, whom, that and which are the relative pronouns we see after the antecedents.


The girl who asked to come in stood first in the competition.

Here, 'girl' works as the antecedent. And 'who', the relative pronoun, refers to the details of the antecedent 'girl' in the sentence to share information.


The role of antecedent and pronoun in a sentence is interrelated. And antecedent comes before the referent pronoun in a sentence. The use of the pronoun for its antecedent depends on the type of the antecedent. And we have to decide from the type of the antecedent whether the referent pronoun will be singular or plural. So, while constructing a sentence with an antecedent, we must be mindful of choosing the pronoun. The ideas on pronouns make the whole thing easier to understand.


Q1. What is the meaning of an antecedent in English grammar?

Ans. An antecedent can be a word, word phrase or noun that is replaced with a referent pronoun in a sentence later on.

Q2. How does the referent pronoun act with the collective noun antecedent?

Ans. If the antecedent is a collective noun, then the referent pronoun may be both singular and plural, depending on the use of the collective noun in the sentence.

Q3. What is the pronoun-antecedent agreement?

Ans. The pronoun-antecedent agreement determines some rules, including the singular and plural number of the referent pronoun.

Q4. What is the function of antecedent in a sentence?

Ans. An antecedent comes earlier than the pronoun in a sentence. It makes the expression through words more readable by exchanging its position with referent pronouns.

Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47