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For example, "My friends asked me to kick his butt. He was just a scrawny kid, though. I didn't want to fight him." vs., "My friends wanted me to kick his butt. They're jerks. I don't know why they always need to pick on him." vs. "...they're jerks. I don't know why they always need to pick on people who are smaller than them."

This sounds strange to me: "My friends made me go to a nice restaurant, yesterday. I went there again, just a little while ago." But perhaps it isn't strange at all?

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Is there a question here? – Robusto Apr 11 '12 at 1:15
Yeah. I don't see how you don't understand. I'm wondering if allusions need to be to topics, or if they can be to direct and indirect objects? Maybe it isn't clear. Should I edit the question? – Wolfpack'08 Apr 11 '12 at 1:51
I'd recommend editing it.... I had to re-read it a couple of times before it became clear that your question's title was the question and the body of the question were just examples. This could become clearer if you explained why exactly you found that last sentence so strange. The downvote is perhaps a bit harsh, though, it is a valid question I think. – Amos M. Carpenter Apr 11 '12 at 5:14
up vote 4 down vote accepted

There is no rule that a pronoun can only refer to a noun in subject position. A classic example of antecedent flexibility that I have seen is the following:

1) We gave the bananas to the monkeys because they were hungry.

2) We gave the bananas to the monkeys because they were ripe.

In (1), the "they" refers to the monkeys; in (2), it refers to the bananas. Both are grammatical, and both involve an antecedent in object position. This example illustrates the point that in some cases the antecedent is clear only from our background knowledge, not from word order. You could also say:

3) The students gave the bananas to the monkeys because they felt sorry for them.

Here, the "they" does refer to the subject (and the "them" refers to an object; again, because of our background knowledge, we would assume that the students felt sorry for the monkeys and not for the bananas). Of course, it can also be ambiguous, as in:

4) The students gave the bananas to the monkeys when they were ready.

In (4), we would need broader context to determine whether the bananas, the monkeys, or the students were the ones who were ready.

For more discussion of anaphora, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaphora_(linguistics)

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+1 for good clear examples (I don't rate the question, but I do rate the answer! :) – FumbleFingers Apr 11 '12 at 3:11
@FumbleFingers That's kind of messed up, man. That's like rating the bass and not the drum. How many non-Native English speakers do you think are familiar with the word "anaphora", or even just what it implies? – Wolfpack'08 Apr 18 '12 at 8:37
@mkey Great answer. Thank you. – Wolfpack'08 Apr 18 '12 at 8:37

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