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What are anaphoric and cataphoric references? (And how to teach them)

What are anaphoric and cataphoric references? (And how to teach them)

What a mouthful! In short, anaphoric and cataphoric references are emphatic styles of sentence structure taught at C1 – C2 level. They are used to insert emphasis into the first clause of a statement. In most cases, this grammar lesson is taught in the theme of “breaking news” and students learn and practice this skill in the context of sharing information.  Here are two examples:

  1. “Three tech giants filed for bankruptcy yesterday. It was shocking.”

  2. “Yesterday’s news was shocking. Three tech giants filed for bankruptcy.”

Let’s look at them one by one:

1. Anaphora (Anaphoric reference)

Rule: Backward reference

(clause 1) “Three tech giants filed for bankruptcy.” (clause 2) “It was shocking.”

(clause 1) subject (specified) + verb + obj. complement.
(clause 2) subject (unspecified; it) + verb + obj. complement.

The subject in the second clause is unspecified. However, it’s implicitly understood to be referencing the subject in the first clause. In other words, tell the reader what the subject is first, then reference back to it and add information in the second clause.

2. Cataphora (Cataphoric Reference)

Rule: Forward reference (converse of anaphora)

(clause 1) “Yesterday’s news was shocking.” (clause 2) “Three tech giants filed for bankruptcy.”

(clause 1) subject (unspecified; it) + verb + obj. complement.
(clause 2) subject (specified) + verb + obj. complement.

The subject in the first clause is unspecified, which begs the question: “what is it?” or “what is the subject?” The subject in the second clause provides clarifying information to the subject of the first clause. In other words, tell the reader some information about the subject, then reference forwards to the second clause and tell us what the subject is.

Classroom activities for practice

1. Find a news article, narrative, or essay. I suggest using the reading resource below, available in EF’s C11 General Education textbook, unit five, page 58:

“Mario thought, should I tell her or shouldn’t I? The question spun round and round in his head and it slowly started to push every other logical argument to the sides, like a massive centrifuge. Slowly, though, he started to see the answers he needed. They were all lined up in neat little lists_. And the first one was no, he shouldn’t!”_ [Actual text can be longer if desired]

2. Scramble the clauses and give them to groups of three students each. Each group should have the same materials. Ask them to match each clause together.

3. After they have finished matching up the clauses, ask them to reorganize the sentences into a cohesive article. (This activity can be completed at the beginning of the class as a warm-up.)

4. After matching all the information together, spend a couple minutes answering comprehension questions. A whole class discussion is optional. Then, using the sentences from this activity as examples, teach the students anaphoric and cataphoric references.

5. Finally, ask the students to pick a trending topic from the news to write a few sentences about (like the ones at the beginning of this article). Tell the students to divide the clauses onto several strips pieces of paper. Illustrate one example on the board, teaching the students that the sentences can be as funny, strange, or unusual as they like – as long as they make sense. For example:

“It’s true they can be a bit frightening, though bees are an integral part of our ecosystem.”

“Although he loves all sorts of activities, crocheting and spelunking are Brian’s favorites.”

Once each group of three has created five sentences, allow them to exchange their clauses with the group to their left.

Anaphora and cataphora are two common forms of style that appear to reduce repetition and focus emphasis on specific ideas. Hopefully this article was helpful in explaining anaphora and cataphora and provided some useful methods of how to teach it in the classroom.

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