Cataphora in English Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Cataphora (grammar)
Cataphora. Credit- Spencer Platt / Staff

In English grammar, cataphora is the use of a pronoun or other linguistic unit to refer ahead to another word in a sentence (i.e., the referent). Adjective: cataphoric. Also known as anticipatory anaphora, forward anaphora, cataphoric reference, or forward reference.

Cataphora and anaphora are the two main types of endophora--that is, reference to an item within the text itself.

Cataphora in English Grammar

The word that gets its meaning from a subsequent word or phrase is called a cataphor.

The subsequent word or phrase is called the antecedent, referent, or head.

Anaphora vs. Cataphora

Some linguists use anaphora as a generic term for both forward and backward reference. The term forward(s) anaphora is equivalent to cataphora

Examples and Uses of Cataphora

In the following examples, cataphors are in italics and their referents are in bold.

  • "Why do we envy him, the bankrupt man?" (John Updike, Hugging the Shore, 1984)
  • A few weeks before he died, my father gave me an old cigar box filled with faded letters.
  • "In 'The Pendulum Years,' his history of the 1960s, Bernard Levin writes of the 'collective insanity which seized Britain.'" (The London Evening Standard, February 8, 1994, quoted by Katie Wales in Personal Pronouns in Present-Day English. Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • "If she were alive today, [Barbara] Tuchman would surely be preparing to pen fresh furious pages tonight, as the president seeks to rally his faltering domestic popularity with summonses of support." (Martin Kettle, "If He Resists the Siren Voice of Folly, Blair's Legacy Is Secure." The Guardian, June 25, 2005)
  • "You must remember this:
    A kiss is just a kiss,
    A sigh is just a sigh
    ." (Herman Hupfeld, "As Time Goes By," 1931)
  • "This, I now realize, was a very bad idea--suggesting we do whatever Terry Crews wants for the day." (Joel Stein, "Crews Control." Time, September 22, 2014)
  • "It must have been tough on your mother, not having any children." (Ginger Rogers in 42nd Street, 1933)
  • Too scared to buy before they sell, some homeowners aim for a trade.
  • "So I just want to say this to the Congress: An America that buys much more than they sell year in and year out is an America that is facing economic and military disaster.(Congressman James A. Traficant, Congressional Record--House, September 25, 1998)
  • "After she declared herself 'broken, betrayed, at bay, really low' in another organ yesterday, I'm not sure the Diary should even mention poor Bel Mooney's name." (The Guardian, August 9, 1994)

Creating Suspense With Cataphora

  • "[Cataphora] is in evidence in the next example, which is typical of the opening sentences of books:
Students (not unlike yourselves) compelled to buy paperback copies of his novels--notably the first, Travel Light, though there has lately been some academic interest in his more surreal and 'existential' and perhaps even 'anarchist' second novel, Brother Pig--or encountering some essay from When the Saints in a shiny heavy anthology of mid-century literature costing $12.50, imagine that Henry Bech, like thousands less famous than he, is rich. He is not.
[John Updike, "Rich in Russia." Bech: A Book, 1970]

Here we meet 'copies of his novels' before we know who 'he' is.

It is only several lines later that the possessive adjective 'his' links forward to the proper nouns Henry Bech in the text that comes after. As you can see, whereas anaphora refers back, cataphora refers forward. Here, it is a stylistic choice, to keep the reader in suspense as to who is being talked about. More usually, the noun that the pronoun links forward to follows soon after." (Joan Cutting, Pragmatics and Discourse: A Resource Book for Students. Routledge, 2002)
Strategic Use of Cataphora

  • "[M]ore often than not, protypical cataphora is motivated by a planned or strategic delivery of a referent, such as in news-telling like the following: Listen to this--John won a lottery and got a million dollars! Prototypical cataphora thus is rarely associated with problems in lexical retrieval." (Makoto Hayashi and Kyung-Eun Yoon, "Demonstratives in Interaction." Fillers, Pauses and Placeholders, ed. by Nino Amiridze, Boyd H. Davis, and Margaret Maclagan. John Benjamins, 2010)

    Cataphora and Style

    • "[S]ome prescriptive grammarians have gone so far as to condemn the practice [of cataphora], for reasons of clarity and, more blandly, 'good style.' So H.W. Fowler declares 'the pronoun should rarely precede its principal,' a view echoed by Gowers . . .. This has led to problems in terminology. The term antecedent, for example, is commonly used to refer to a coreferential NP in an anaphoric relation; there is no equivalent expression for the *postcedent NP, however. But by an odd semantic license, some grammarians, and of different schools of thought, use antecedent in this sense." (Katie Wales, Personal Pronouns in Present-Day English. Cambridge University Press, 1996)

    From the Greek, "backward" + "carry"

    Also see:

    Pronunciation: ke-TAF-eh-ra