Anaphoric, Cataphoric and Exophoric Referencing

A look at anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric referencing in English language teaching.

Keith Taylor
Anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric referencing

When we speak or write we often refer to things that were mentioned earlier, haven’t been mentioned yet, or were mentioned in another context or at another time.

What is anaphoric reference?

Anaphoric reference occurs when a word or phrase refers to something mentioned earlier in the discourse.

Here’s an example of anaphoric reference:

Michael went to the bank. He was annoyed because it was closed.

He refers to Michael.
it refers to the bank.

Anaphoric reference often makes use of the definite article the, because one of the functions of the definite article is to indicate that something has already been mentioned. Here’s another example:

He sat down at the table and took a small box from his pocket. The object felt heavy in his hands. Inside it was the key to his future.

Both the object and it refer back to a small box in the first sentence.

What is cataphoric reference?

Cataphoric reference occurs when a word or phrase refers to something mentioned later in the discourse.

Here are some examples of cataphoric reference:

Although I phone her every week, my mother still complains that I don’t keep in touch often enough.

Her refers to my mother.

The book was there on the table. I’d never read Moby Dick and I didn’t intend to do so now.

The book refers to Moby Dick.

What is exophoric reference?

Exophoric reference occurs when a word or phrase refers to something outside the discourse.

Here are some examples of exophoric reference:

“They‘re late again, can you believe it?”
“I know! Well, they’d better get here soon or it‘ll get cold.”

They refers to some people outside the discourse known to both speakers.
It also refers to something that both speakers know about (perhaps the dinner).

The use of exophoric reference requires some shared knowledge between two speakers, or between writer and reader(s).

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Keith Taylor

Keith is the co-founder of Eslbase and School of TEFL. He's been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years, in Indonesia, Australia, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Poland, France and now in the UK.

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35 comments

  • Hana

    Can you help me with this question,Sir?

    Dave: I think phubbing is getting worse now. People tend to ignore others during conversations almost on all occasions.
    Prilly: You are right. In my opinion this action interrupts their ability to be present and engage with people around them.
    Dave: That’s true. I guess it causes a bad impact to the phubber’s mental health. One study found that texting during a face to face conversation made the experience less satisfying for everyone involved. Even the guilty phubber. Do you have other opinions?
    Prilly: A research I read states that spouses who phub each other experience higher rates of depression and it can cause more serious problems in the family.
    Dave: It must be nice if people can live without problems.

    The exophoric reference found in the conversation is…

    • Keith profile photo
      A
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Hana – I can’t see an exophoric reference in this conversation. Have you seen one?

  • Clinton Kambole

    Good afternoon. What example can qualify under endophoric type of reference?

    • Keith profile photo
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      Keith Taylor

      Hi Clinton
      Endophoric reference is a more general term that includes both anaphoric and cataphoric reference. So it refers to something inside the text, either earlier (anaphoric) or later (cataphoric).
      Hope that helps.

  • Meow

    Thank you for this. I was confused but now this article has cleared my doubts. Thanks again!

  • Fatimah

    Really helpful !:) wish my teacher could teach in the same way btw thanks so much.

  • Katia AMIR

    Very interesting article and it really helps me to understand the difference between endophoric and cataphoric references.
    Thank you so much.

  • Kaosarah Adebukola

    It is really effective and useful

  • Yadeta Hambissa

    Actually it is very interesting. I liked it.

  • AKOR OGBONNA BOLUWATIFE

    Now I understand the difference between endophoric and exophoric reference. Thanks for this comprehensive analysis.

  • Ahmad Auwal Gwangwazo

    Thanks for your writeup. I’ve absolutely learnt a lot from it. More power to your elbow.
    However, I’d really like you to provide me with copious examples of exophoric reference to dust the dirt. Though I got it, I didn’t catch it pretty much.

  • Noela Nzuyu

    Thank you very much. This article has given me more clarification about the topic.

  • Mukole

    Thanks for these references, they can easily be understood

  • Hikari

    Hey! I’ve a question: Can an anaphora be considered as an exophora? If yes how?

    • Keith profile photo
      A
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Khajas and Hikari

      I don’t think this is possible.

      Anaphoric reference = referring to something earlier in the discourse
      Exophoric reference = referring to something outside the discourse

      By definition, if something appears earlier in the discourse, it isn’t outside the discourse.

  • Khajas

    Please answer my question…can an exophoric reference be an anaphoric in the same time with example please

  • Mrs Kusi

    This article has given me clarification on the topic.
    Thank you.

  • Moses Kingsley Arthur

    Thanks very much for your explanations on the types of referencing. I’m grateful.

    *Can you please give some examples of endophoric referencing?*

    Once again, thank you.

    • Keith profile photo
      A
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Moses

      “Endophoric” reference is a more general term that includes both anaphoric and cataphoric reference. So it refers to something inside the text, either earlier (anaphoric) or later (cataphoric). So any of the examples above of anaphoric and cataphoric reference are also examples of endophoric reference.

      Hope that helps.

      • Kenewa Gamanga

        The clarity together with the simple language that you use in your responses is commendable. Your resilience and courage to reply underscores the virtues of a professional teacher. Thanks.

  • mapaseka sefate

    Thank you this really helped me

  • Paul Brandy MUKENYI

    Your article’s really interesting for people reading linguistics.

  • Mtshi404

    This came in very handy for an assignment I was doing. Thank you.

    • Keith profile photo
      A
      Keith Taylor

      Glad it was a help!

  • Olamide

    Found it really useful

  • Justice

    Very concise. Loved it

  • Samah Bastawy

    Thanks a lot, I am studying discourse analysis, it is a branch of linguistics study. Definitely this is a very useful explanation.

  • Aseel Khalil

    Excuse me, I have one more question about the anaphoric Reference
    I couldn’t get the point about the function of the definite article.
    Could you please explain that to me?

    • Keith profile photo
      A
      Keith Taylor

      The definite article is the word “the”. We often use the word “the” to refer to something that we’ve already talked about, and so this makes it a very useful word for anaphoric reference (referring to something earlier in the discourse).

      I hope this helps.

  • Aseelkh

    Hey!
    When does the Endophoric Reference occur? Is it when a word refers to something inside the discourse?

    • Keith profile photo
      A
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Aseelkh

      Thanks for your question. “Endophoric” reference is a more general term that includes both anaphoric and cataphoric reference. So it refers to something inside the text, either earlier (anaphoric) or later (cataphoric).

      I hope that helps.

      • Aseel Khalil

        Good Afternoon!
        Thanks for replying!
        Okay, I see. It seems obvious to me now, Thanks very much :)

  • Luis

    I am studing English (traductor de Inglés) and this article really helped me understand the concepts. It is very clear and the examples clarify the explanations.

    • Keith profile photo
      A
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Luis – thanks for your comment, I’m glad the article is useful for you!

      • Safaa Imad

        Thank you so much
        It’s really helpful
        Many other articles I have read were no use

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