This is the opening sentence from the Edgar Allan Poe short story 'The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar'.

Of course I shall not pretend to consider it any matter for wonder that the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion.

It seems to me that 'it' in this sentence is not a dummy 'it' but a pronoun that refers forward to the subordinate clause 'that the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion.' We could rewrite the sentence as 'Of course I shall not pretend to consider that the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion any matter for wonder .' The problem would be that 'consider that' is a common construction that utilises 'that' in a different way than is intended here (as introduction to a subordinate clause), so instead the pronoun 'it' is used to separate off the clause.

On the other hand, we could write 'That the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion, I shall, of course, not pretend to consider any matter for wonder.'

Does my analysis make sense, and are there many instances where a pronoun refers forward to something that occurs later in a sentence?

For instance--"I consider him damned, who refuses to submit to God" where there is no previous noun the pronoun 'him' refers to, but 'him' instead refers to the following subordinate clause 'who refuses to submit to God'. (Which raises the interesting case of a subordinate clause that modifies a pronoun that actually refers to the subordinate clause--but then, 'he who refuses to submit to God' would work the same way.)

  • 1
    Pronouns that refer forward to noun phrases later in the sentence are examples of cataphora.
    – herisson
    Jul 6, 2016 at 10:35
  • Interesting. Some interesting examples there. (BTW, if I say that, is 'there', in reference to the reference in your comment, an anaphora?)
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 6, 2016 at 11:01
  • Please wait a day or two before selecting an answer. You may get further helpful and interesting answers. People may not bother to write another answer for you if you've already selected one Jul 6, 2016 at 12:15
  • I'm not attempting to preclude other answers. If this site doesn't allow the selection of multiple answers that's a problem with the site itself. On the other hand, my question here was essentially about pronouns that refer forward, and examples of that, and Max Williams answered that. I'd also like someone to address the issue of the pronoun that refers to a subordinate clause that modifies the pronoun, but I'm not sure how to pose that as a question.
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 6, 2016 at 12:38
  • Of course, I'm also aware that there is certainly a much deeper linguistic discussion possible of the example, but whether you get that or not on this site is pretty hit and miss.<<'hit and miss'--a three-word compound adjective comprising two nouns and a conjunction.
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 6, 2016 at 12:40

1 Answer 1


You're talking about postcedents. An antecedent is a word/phrase which is referred back to in a later part of the sentence like "your tea" in "Drink your tea while it's hot."

If you said "While it's still hot, you should drink your tea", "your tea" becomes a postcedent.


In both cases, the pronoun ("it" in these examples) which refers back or forward to the antecedent/postcedent is called a pro-form.


The naming comes from "ante" meaning "before" (because the antecedent comes before the pro-form) and "post" meaning after (because the postcedent comes after the pro-form).

Postcedents are less commonly used, probably because when you see the pro-form (eg "it") you don't actually yet know what they're referring to, so it makes the sentence a bit harder to comprehend. I think they may be most commonly used when the postcedent is someone's name, like

"After hearing his alarm go off for the third time, Simon finally woke up".

  • Okay, yes…but with "While it's still hot, you should drink your tea", there's the risk of 'it' being understood as the dummy 'it' that is used to refer to the weather. 'While (the weather) is still hot, you should drink your tea'. "After hearing his alarm go off for the third time, Simon finally woke up" is a good example that I hadn't thought of. Could a postcedent actually occur in a subsequent sentence? "His alarm went off. Simon woke up and rolled over." Or is this just literary tricky-dickery that a strict grammarian wouldn't allow?
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 6, 2016 at 10:27
  • You're right about the ambiguity of "it" in the first example, I thought that as I wrote it (but went ahead anyway!). Your postcedent-spread-across-two-sentences example looks wrong, but I think you could happily use an antecedent in this way, eg "Susan passed me the plate. It was very hot.". That article I linked to only talks about postcedents being used within a sentence, and also remarks on their potential to cause confusion. I think that risk would increase massively if you spread them across two sentences but I don't know if it's actually forbidden. Bad practise, at least. Jul 6, 2016 at 10:47
  • This raises again the issue of whether what occurs in poetic or literary writing can be considered 'good grammar' (by virtue of established practice) or not. Also, I'm still interested in the fact that in 'he who refuses to submit to God' the clause modifies the pronoun that refers back to the clause…which is very circular.
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 6, 2016 at 11:04
  • I also can't help noticing that there is some scrambled grammar in that reference you gave. 'Antecedent is a word that appears before the pronoun or noun, that it refers back to.' And 'While antecedents precede the noun or pronoun that they refer back to, postcedents appear behind or after the nouns or pronouns which are used to refer to them' <<I think this partly says the opposite of what it means to say.
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 6, 2016 at 11:10
  • The first one is a good example of the potential confusion of antecedents! I think it's correct, if you parse it as "Antecedent is a word that appears before the pronoun or noun (ie the pro-form), that (the pro-form) refers back to.". I think the second is fine as is. When they say "the noun/pronoun" they mean the pro-form (eg "it"). Jul 6, 2016 at 11:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.