Site-wide links

Parts of Speech

As stated in the introduction, "reference words" are mostly pronouns and noun phrases, less often other parts of speech. Below is a repeat of the paragraph about Germany. Look carefully at the highlighted reference words again and note their parts of speech. Then, read the explanations in the sections below it.

Germany After World War 2

In 1939, Germany started World War 2; she (1) was confident that she (1) could conquer and control all of Europe. She (1) spread death and destruction over much of the continent (2). But after several years of war, Germany herself (3) began to suffer severe losses (4): Allied bombing raids destroyed German cities, farms, industries, and transportation systems. Food, water, and fuel began to disappear; and without these essentials (5), people could not care for themselves (6) and their families. Berlin, the capital city, incurred even worse damage (7): bombing raids destroyed seventy percent of its (8) buildings, leaving the city (9) in ruins. People there (10) lived in squalor. Vermin (11) spread, bringing diseases: Rats and fleas infested people's homes; roaches contaminated their (12) food. Conditions (13) worsened daily.

Pronouns as Reference Words

The classical example of a reference word is the simple pronoun, as in example 1 above, where the pronoun she refers to Germany three times.

Pronouns are somewhat limited in that they may refer only to items within the same paragraph in which they appear. Moreover, they contain only a bare minimum of information and, if writers are not careful to place them close enough to their antecedents, their reference will not be clear to readers.

A second kind of pronoun reference word, which appears twice in the paragraph above, is the "reflexive," which ends in -self or -selves. Reflexives are even more limited in that they refer to a word within the same sentence.

In example 3, the reflexive herself shows an abrupt focusing of attention on the word Germany, meaning that now Germany (and not the other countries) was suffering severe losses. In spoken English, the same effect could be achieved by simply stressing the word with one's voice.

A more frequent use of reflexive pronouns is to show that the subject of a sentence performs an action on itself, as in example 6, where the reflexive pronoun themselves refers to the word people.

Noun Phrases as Reference Words

A "noun phrase" is simply a noun including any modifier such as an "adjective" or an "article." For example, people, the people, and the friendly people are all noun phrases. In contrast to pronouns, noun phrase reference words can carry more precise information, making it easier for the reader to follow them. As such, they may jump one or two paragraph boundaries to find their antecedents.

The most frequent noun phrase reference words are general words and "superordinates" that refer to more specific items in the text, as in the examples below:

Example 2: the continent refers to Europe.

Example 4: losses refers to Allied bombing raids and the destruction of German cities, farms, industries, and transportation systems.

Example 5: these essentials refers to food, water, and fuel.

Example 7: damage refers to bombing raids destroying 70% of Berlin and leaving it in ruins.

Example 9: the city refers to Berlin.

Example 11: vermin refers to rats, fleas, and roaches.

Example 12: conditions refers to the information in the whole bottom half of the paragraph.

Other Parts of Speech as Reference Words

The remaining reference words in the example paragraph above are the following:

Example 8: The "possessive adjective" its refers to the word Berlin (or more accurately, its possessive form Berlin's).

Example 10: The short "locational adverb" there stands for in Berlin.

Example 12: The possessive adjective their stands for the possessive form of the word people (people's).

Reference words can be other parts of speech, idioms, and phrases, as well. You will come across more examples of them in other sections of this module.