cohesion (composition)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

cohesion - passing the baton
M.A.K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan define cohesion as "the set of possibilities that exist in the language for making text hang together" (Cohesion in English, 1976/2013). (technotr/Getty Images)


In writing, cohesion is the use of repetitionpronouns, transitional expressions, and other devices (called cohesive cues) to guide readers and show how the parts of a composition relate to one other. Adjective: cohesive.

Writer and editor Roy Peter Clark makes this distinction between coherence and cohesion in a text: "When the big parts fit, we call that good feeling coherence; when sentences connect we call it cohesion" (Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, 2006).

"Cohesion is one of the basic theoretical concepts of phraseology at all levels," says Anita Naciscione, and "a fundamental notion for discourse analysis and cognitive stylistics" (Stylistic Use of Phraseological Units in Discourse, 2010).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Cohesion: Examples and Exercises

From the Latin, "cling together"

Examples and Observations

  • "At its simplest, cohesion refers to the ways in which texts are 'stuck together'—the ways in which sentences are linked or connected by various linguistic and semantic ties."
    (Theorizing Composition, ed. by Mary Lynch Kennedy. Greenwood Press, 1998)

  • Cohesive Ties: Three Types of Semantic Relationship
    "[Cohesion is a] semantic relationship between two elements in a written or oral text . . .. The two elements may be words, phrases, or clauses. [1] If they occur within adjacent sentences, they form what is called an immediate tie: 'Nick adores Michael Jordan. He also likes basketball.' [2] If they are linked through an item in an intervening sentence, there is a mediated tie: 'Hanna loves to dance. She attends lessons each Saturday. She seems to improve each week.' [3] If two cohesive elements occur in nonadjacent sentences, they form a remote tie: 'Lindsay is eight now. That's a fun age. I wish that we could see her more often.'"
    (Duane H. Roen, "Cohesion." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition, ed. by Theresa Enos. Routledge, 1996)
  • Cohesion and Coherence
    - "Until the mid 1970s, cohesion and coherence were often used interchangeably, both referring either to a kind of vague sense of wholeness or to a more specific set of relationships definable grammatically and lexically. The work of Halliday and Hasan ([Cohesion in English] 1976) influenced scholars and researchers in rhetoric and composition so that, by the early 1980s, the two terms were distinguished. Cohesion is now understood to be a textual quality, attained through the use of grammatical and lexical elements that enable readers to perceive semantic relationships within and between sentences. Coherence refers to the overall consistency of a discourse—its purpose, voice, content, style, form, and so on—and is in part determined by readers' perceptions of texts, dependent not only on linguistic and contextual information in the texts but also on readers' abilities to draw upon other kinds of knowledge, such as cultural and intertextual knowledge."
    (Irwin Weiser, "Linguistics." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition, ed. by Theresa Enos. Routledge, 1996)

    - "Cohesion is achieved when writers connect their organized parts with sufficiently clear and numerous signals—like the words 'finally,' 'thus,' 'however'—to make the development of their cases intelligible and to lead the reader safely along the emerging lines of their arguments. . . .

    "[W]riting must have not only coherence, an effective design, but cohesion, an explicit set of 'hooks' and 'ties' that ensure a reader's interest and comprehension. Coherence is the kind of 'holding together' that a good design will give any discourse, whether written or spoken. Cohesion is the result of giving readers the right kind of explicit help in figuring out the design. Cohesion gives readers the clues for discovering coherence."
    (Wayne C. Booth and Marshall W. Gregory, The Harper & Row Rhetoric: Writing as Thinking/Thinking as Writing, 1987)

  • Halliday and Hasan on the Presupposing and the Presupposed
    "The concept of cohesion is a semantic one; it refers to relations of meaning that exist within the text, and that define it as a text.

    "Cohesion occurs where the INTERPRETATION of some element in the discourse is dependent on that of another. The one PRESUPPOSES the other, in the sense that it cannot be effectively decoded except by recourse to it. When this happens, a relation of cohesion is set up, and the two elements, the presupposing and the presupposed, are thereby at least potentially integrated into a text.

    "This is another way of approaching the notion of a tie. . . .

    "The simplest form of cohesion is that in which the presupposed element is verbally explicit and is found in the immediately preceding sentence; for example:
    Did the gardener water my plants?
    He said so.
    We shall treat this as the norm for purposes of illustration and discussion; not only because it is simpler in practice, but also because it is . . . the paradigm case of cohesion from a theoretical point of view, since the boundary between two sentences represents a minimal break in structural continuity."
    (M.A.K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan, Cohesion in English, 1976; Routledge, 2013)

  • Types of Cohesion
    "In linguistics, [cohesion is] the use of language forms to indicate semantic relations between elements in a discourse. Grammatical cohesion concerns such matters as reference, ellipsis, substitution, and conjunction; lexical cohesion concerns such features as synonymy, antonymy, metonymy, collocation, repetition, etc.; instantial cohesion concerns ties that are valid only for a particular text. Together, cohesion and register contribute to textuality, the sense that something is a text and not a random collection of sentences."
    (Tom Michael McCarthy and Tom McArthur, "Cohesion." The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press, 1992)

  • Cohesion and Coherence in Bill Bryson's Thunderbolt Kid
    "Of all the tragic losses since the 1950s, mimeograph paper may be the greatest. With its rapturously fragrant, sweetly aromatic pale blue ink, mimeograph paper was literally intoxicating. Two deep drafts of a freshly run-off mimeograph worksheet and I would be the education system’s willing slave for up to seven hours. Go to any crack house and ask the people where their dependency problems started and they will tell you, I'm certain, that it was with mimeograph paper in second grade. I used to bound out of bed on a Monday morning because that was the day that fresh mimeographed worksheets were handed out. I draped them over my face and drifted off to a private place where fields were green, everyone went barefoot, and the soft trill of panpipes floated on the air."
    (Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Broadway Books, 2006)


Pronunciation: ko-HE-zhen