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Is it grammatically correct to say, for example,

Providing that you'll return it tomorrow, you can use my computer.

Notice that I've used "it" before actually naming the object. Can we use both sentences?

Providing that you'll return my computer tomorrow, you can use it.

P.S.: For the example, let's assume "computer" hasn't been mentioned before.

  • 1
    Yes. This is called "cataphora", as opposed to the usual "anaphoric" use of pronouns. – Colin Fine Nov 6 '15 at 17:24
  • @ColinFine: Good call on cataphora. I missed it entirely--though in my answer I described it in a thousand words! Hey, the depths of the canon of "elocutio" are hard to plumb (e.g., procatalepsis, synecdoche, hyperbaton, ad infinitum)! Don – rhetorician Nov 6 '15 at 21:22
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Sure, why not. Variety in sentence structure is a good thing (as Martha Stewart might say).

  • Up the tree I went.

And

  • I went up the tree.

One is prosaic; the other has a refreshing ring to it. The same reasoning applies to your position of "it." An argument could be made that the word order of your first sentence contains an element of surprise or anticipation. First comes it and then--wait for it--computer! Almost like a reverse anticlimax, a rhetorical term for "a descent in discourse from the significant or important to the trivial, inconsequential, etc."

Off the top of my head:

"Men, what I'm about to say to you men may come as a surprise or a shock. Be that as it may. It may also disappoint some of you as well. Regardless of your reaction to it, here goes: yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda . . .."

Instead of saying from the get go, for example,

"Men, you are all going to be transferred en masse to the Russian Front . . .,"

you kind of string them along, thus perhaps creating a bit more drama, for whatever reason.

  • I thought of anticipation aspect but was not sure. Thanks for the great example and detailed explanation. edit: Thanks for the other answer as well. – Stanley Wilkins Nov 6 '15 at 16:58
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Yes. This was first clarified, in the general case, by Ronald Langacker in On Pronominalization and the Chain of Command. You can have "backwards" pronominalization (where the antecedent follows the pronoun) in case the antecedent commands the pronoun but the pronoun does not command the antecedent. That will be so in case the pronoun is within every clause that also contains the antecedent but is also within a clause that does not contain the antecedent.

With clauses marked by numbered brackets, the original example is:

[1 [2 Providing that [3 you'll return it tomorrow 3] 2], you can use my computer 1].

The antecedent "my computer" is within clause 1, and the pronoun "it" is within clauses 1, 2, and 3.

  • Yeah. Simplest statement of the rule is that the pronoun may not both precede and command its antecedent. A pronoun can command its antecedent if it doesn't precede it; or precede it if it doesn't command it; but not both. – John Lawler Nov 6 '15 at 21:47
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    @JohnLawler, that's not quite the same. McCawley points out in his discussion in SPHE that you cannot have a pronoun in a sentence preceding an independent sentence containing its antecedent, even though the pronoun does not both precede and command its antecedent. – Greg Lee Nov 6 '15 at 22:02
  • Good point. and 4 – John Lawler Nov 6 '15 at 23:22
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It is not ungrammatical to use "postcedent". But note that it is less braodly used than an "antecedent":

a. When it is ready, I'll have a cup of coffee. - Noun as postcedent
b. In her bed, my friend spends the entire morning. - Noun phrase as postcedent
c. It bothered me that she did not call. - Clause as postcedent, example of it-extraposition
d. Two violinists were there, at the party. - Prepositional phrase as postcedent
e. Sam tries to work then, when it is raining. - Clause as postcedent

[Wikipedia]

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