Definition of Antecedents
"Antecedents" are the items that reference words refer to. Note the examples in the following excerpt:
By June of 1945, Great Britain, the United States, France, and the Soviet Union (1) had occupied Germany (2). Immediately, they (1) devised a system for controlling the country (2):
In the preceding excerpt, there are two reference words and two antecedents. The first reference word is the pronoun they, and its antecedent is Great Britain, the United States, France, and the Soviet Union. The second reference word is the noun phrase the country, and its antecedent is Germany.
Note that, in these examples, the antecedents precede their reference words; and strictly speaking, the term "antecedent" means "words that precede their reference words." However, for flexibility and ease of discussion, it has become common practice to use the term "antecedent" to mean "any word that is referred to," whether preceding or following. This module will follow that same practice.
Size of Antecedents
Antecedents can consist of various-sized portions of text-a noun phrase, a sentence, even one or more paragraphs. For practice, there are two continuing paragraphs about Germany below. Read the first paragraph and find the antecedents of the highlighted reference words. Determine whether the antecedents are noun phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. Then, check the answers below the paragraph. When you have finished the first paragraph, do the same for the second paragraph.
Before long, the four countries (1) began to disagree on how to govern Germany. Great Britain, the United States, and France wanted to establish a democratic government. The Soviet Union did not (2); rather, they wanted to establish a communist government. In order to solve this disagreement (3), they partitioned Germany into two separate countries. On 23 May 1949, the three western sectors (4) under Great Britain, the United States, and France became the Federal Republic of Germany, or simply West Germany. It was to have a democratic government. And on 7 October 1949, the eastern sector (5) under the Soviet Union became the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. It (6) would have a communist government.
1. The antecedent of the four countries is a noun phrase, Great Britain, the United States, France, and the Soviet Union.
2. The antecedent of the "auxiliary verb" did (not) is the predicate part of a sentence, or actually its negative restatement (...did not want to establish a democratic government).
3. The antecedent of this disagreement is the two sentences preceding it.
4. The antecedent of the three western sectors is a noun phrase, the three sectors under Great Britain, the United States, and France, mentioned in a previous paragraph.
5. The antecedent of the eastern sector is a noun phrase, the sector under the Soviet Union, mentioned in a previous paragraph.
6. The antecedent of it is a noun phrase, East Germany.
Great Britain, the United States, and France did not try to control West Germany; rather they allowed West Germany to become a democracy and to govern itself (7). The United States invested millions of dollars into helping West Germany rebuild its cities, farms, industries, and transportation systems. In this way (8), West German industry and technology grew, and its (9) people prospered. On the other hand, the Soviet Union established a communist government in East Germany. They dismantled many of East Germany's factories and shipped them (10) to the Soviet Union. They (11) took over banks, farms, and industries and forced them (12) to work for the Soviet Union. They also forced people to work for low wages. As a result of these harsh measures (13), East Germans became poor.
7. The antecedent of itself is a noun phrase, West Germany.
8. The antecedent of in this way is the two sentences preceding it.
9. The antecedent of its is a noun, Germany.
10. The antecedent of them is a noun phrase, many of East Germany's factories.
11. The antecedent of They is a noun phrase, the Soviet Union.
12. The antecedent of them is three nouns, banks, farms, and industries.
13. The antecedent of these harsh measures is the four sentences preceding it.