Cohesive Devices - Anaphoric Nouns
Using nouns to refer to previous parts of a text
Anaphoric nouns are nouns which are used to refer back to some object or idea already presented in a text. They are usually very general words and often abstract nouns because they refer to ideas, arguments, theories and so on. When they are used to refer to ideas found elsewhere in a text they are sometimes known as shell nouns. They constitute an important class of words in academic discourse.
The text below contains examples of nouns used anaphorically to refer to previous items. It also contains other reference items, some of which are highlighted and explained. The text is taken from an article, How memories are formed and retrieved by the brain revealed in a new study, in "The Conversation" by Benjamin J. Griffiths and Simon Hanslmayr from the University of Birmingham and you can access the full article here.
You can also view the complete text by clicking in the top right hand corner of the first section below. Click in each paragraph to view these items. You can pause the animations with a mouse down or touch down action. The full text contains many examples of nouns used anaphorically including these little details, the experience, that meal, the meal, the process, this phenomenon, these details, the experiment, these associations, this pattern, the event, the memory. You can see that the nouns are all preceded by words like the, this, that, those - determiners and demonstrative pronouns indicating that a reference is to be found somewhere in the text. Other examples are such, former, latter, other, same, another. Examples of their use are given below.
Further Examples of Noun Reference
Anaphoric nouns are often preceded by determiners such as the, this, that, these, those, such, former, latter ...
The following are a few examples:
- So the important question of whether periodontal disease causes heart disease has yet to be determined. This issue was recently addressed in a statement by the American Heart Association. (Roberts-Thomson n.d.)
- There are then two chief duties of roots, to absorb water from the soil for the whole plant, and to hold it firmly in the ground. The fine fibres of the root, which are so much divided and run in the soil, serve both these purposes, as they expose a large area to contact with the soil, and so can absorb much from it, as well as getting a good hold of it. (Stopes 1906)
- Very often you may find plants of the same species as those that grow so tall in the hedge, growing in the shorter turf away from it, and there only reaching their usual height.
This shows us not only that different species are specialised to grow under different conditions, but that even two individual plants of the same species may be growing within a few feet of each other, and yet have quite a different appearance owing to the influence of their immediate surroundings. There are many such cases to be seen in the hedgerows. (Stopes 1906)
- such a
- " ..the squids of our coasts vary in length from eight inches to one foot; and the giant Architeuthis of the North Atlantic measures, often, fifty feet from the end of its arms to the tip of its tail. Such a creature, with its long arms provided with suckers, its powerful jaws, and its rapid, alert movements, is a formidable foe". (Foote Arnold, 1901)
- such an
- Sometimes the leaves are arranged in a circle all round the stem at the same level; this is the case in the horsetail, and such an arrangement is called a whorl, but it is not very common in plants. (Stopes 1906)
- This eclipse settled for ever the doubt as to whether the Red Flames belonged to the Sun or the Moon, and in favour of the former view.
- [Bailey's beads] are observed to form before the total phase, and often also after the total phase has passed. Under the latter circumstances, the beads of light eventually run one into another, like so many small drops of water merging into one big one.
- If you were asked to give the signs of life in an animal, it is likely that you would think at once of its power of breathing, eating, growing, and moving. Now when we ask the same question about plants the answer does not appear to be quite so easy to find, because at first sight plants do not seem to do any of these things except the growing. (Stopes 1906)