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Thomas Hart Benton's
(1889-1975), American
New York, 
Early Twenties
1920
Antecedents
of
Pronouns

     The antecedent of a pronoun is the name of the person or thing the pronoun refers to. Antecedent means “going before,” and the word is used because the name of the person or thing denoted by a pronoun generally occurs in the sentence before the pronoun. In

Bill found a fortune when he went to California.
the antecedent of the pronoun "he" is "Bill."

     Some pronouns do not have antecedents. For example, to what word does the pronoun "it" refer in a sentence like "It is raining"? In some cases, the antecedent is not in the text. For example, what would be the antecedent of "I" in "I saw him at the store"?

    Sometimes you will find an "antecedent" that comes after the pronoun. Consider the following sentence from Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince":

"Why can't you be like the Happy Prince?" asked a sensible mother of her little boy who was crying for the moon. 
In the story, the "you" cannot be identified until one gets to the word "boy."

   Later, you will be learning of other constructions in which the "antecedent" comes after the pronoun. One example is

It is easy to catch a fish here.
In cases like this, the word "it" simply fills the subject slot in the sentence. We get to the real subject later: "To catch fish here is easy."