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In grammar, an antecedent is a noun, noun phrase, or clause to which an anaphor refers in a coreference. For example, in the passage "I did not see Anjan because he wasn't there", "Anjan" is the antecedent of the anaphor "he"; together "Anjan" and "he" are called a coreference because they both refer to the same thing (in this case, a particular person). The word "antecedent" begins with the prefix "ante-", meaning "before", because almost always the antecedent occurs before the anaphor.
In the examples in this article, antecedents are in bold and anaphors in italics.
Use with relative pronouns
- As I was going up the stairs, I met a little man who smiled at me.
- Whilome in Albuion’s isle there dwelt a youth,
- Who ne in virtue’s ways did take delight... ("Childe Harold’s Pilramage", Lord Byron)
Sometimes the relative pronoun anaphor may not appear, but may be implied by syntactic principles; this is called a zero anaphor
- I know the book you want. (=I know the book that you want.)
An example for an interrogative pronoun without an antecedent is "what did Bob have for lunch?"
Separation of antecedent from anaphor 
In the following example the antecedent is separated from the anaphor by the verb.
- A situation has arisen there calls for immediate action.
- Where are thy father & mother? Say?
- They are both gone up to the church to pray. ("The Chimney Sweeper", William Blake)
Different languages allow separation of the anaphor from the antecedent to varying degrees. For example, in Arabic and Hebrew it is not permitted at all (the antecedent must always come right before the relative pronoun or conjunction or clause), in English it is used to avoid awkward constructions, and in German such separation is frequent due to the practice of shunting the verb to the end of the sentence.
Occasionally the antecedent may be preceded by its anaphor:
If they are careful, people don't make that mistake.
Unclear antecedents 
An error in writing which leads to confusion in the reader is the use of a pronoun for which the antecedent is not clear, as in the following example:
I met "John" and "Mike" at the party. "He" told me about "his" new friend.
Without additional information, the reader cannot tell whether the antecedent of "he" and "his" is John or Mike. It is completely unclear, and needs additional information.
Occasionally, the antecedent may be missing from the discourse, as when someone wonders out loud: "I wonder where I put it", with no clear antecedent for the pronoun "it."
Sometimes an antecedent may not occur in the current discourse but instead refer to an object familiar to both speaker and listener; for example, in "They always get their man" the unspecified antecedent of "they" could be "the cops" when the sentence is spoken by and to people who often refer to it. In this case, the antecedent is clear to an "insider" but unclear to an "outsider".