To begin with, an antecedent is a word or phrase that a pronoun refers to.
‘Ante’ is a prefix that means going before other things, for instance, ‘ante mortem’ means before death. This implies, ‘antecedent’ come before something, but what? Well, antecedents appear before the pronouns that refer to them. For better understanding, let’s take a look at a sentence.
If pastries are available, be sure to order it.
In the sentence above, ‘it’ refers to ‘pastries’, i.e. the pronoun refers to a noun. So here, ‘pastries’ is the antecedent that the pronoun ‘it’ refers to.
So hereby it is clear that antecedents will always appear before the pronoun. But then there are sentences like ‘when you see him, please tell David that I’ll be late’. What to make of these? As a writer, you should be careful of your usage of pronouns. Using ‘him’ before the antecedent ‘professor’ will cause the readers to be in the dark about who ‘him’ refers to until the second half of the sentence. This is highly undesirable as it makes the reading experience dull and complex.
In the sentence, ‘Breath in through your nose, hold it for a second, then breath out through your mouth’, the audience understands that they have to breathe through their nose, then hold their nose, and finally breathe out – which no doubt is ridiculously crazy! This happens because ‘it’ refers to nose as it is the nearest noun. This confusion may change meanings and turn your nose down. So you must be careful in the usage and avoid misplacement or faraway placement of pronouns and antecedents.
Now have a look at this outrageous sentence, ‘The cake consisted of cranberries, strawberries, kiwis, blueberries and a cherry on top. It was white in color.’ Now that is a ridiculous cherry, white in color! This one is a case of ambiguous antecedents. Here, the readers would naturally pair ‘it’ with the nearest noun ‘cherry’. To avoid this, the sentence can be combined as in ‘The cake, white in color, consisted of cranberries, kiwis, blueberries and a cherry on top.’ Easy and clear! O one needs to avoid the use of ambiguous antecedents!
Examples of Antecedents
Nina called to say that she will arrive at eight.
The boy who lives next door found his bicycle.
The girl who sang the song is tired.