Nearest referent

The nearest referent is a grammatical term sometimes used when two or more possible referents of a pronoun, or other part of speech, cause ambiguity in a text. However "nearness", proximity, may not be the most meaningful criterion for a decision, particularly where word order, inflection and other aspects of syntax are more relevant.

The concept of nearest referent is found in analysis of various languages including classical languages Greek,[1] Latin[2] and Arabic,[3][4] and may create, or resolve, variant views in interpretation of a text.

There are other models than nearest referent for deciding what a pronoun, or other part of speech, refers to, and reference order distinguishes pronoun-referent structures where:

This is also described as anaphoric reference (anaphor, previous referent) and cataphoric reference (cataphor, following referent).[6]


  1. e.g. Hebrews p628 David L. Allen - 2010 "Some see it as a reference to “Jesus Christ” since this is the nearest referent, but it is best to take it as referring to “God” since God is the subject of the entire sentence in Greek."
  2. e.g. Marius Victorinus' Commentary on Galatians p355 ed Stephen Andrew Cooper, 2005 "... despite the fact that it is the nearest referent of this pronoun, and not to the Christian disciplina,"
  3. e.g. Mohamed Mohamed Yunis Ali Medieval Islamic pragmatics: Sunni legal theorists' models of ... 2000 p57 "The general principle that can be formulated in this context is that the addresser refers to the nearest referent."
  4. e.g. Women, Bangladesh and international security: methods, discourses, ... Imtiaz Ahmed, Forum on Women in Security and International Affairs (Bangladesh), Bangladesh Freedom Foundation - 2004 p145 "the nearest referent of the pronoun 'them' in the verse is actually women and not men [so] if the interpreters of the Quran adhered to this rule of Arabic grammar they should have concluded that God has made some of them ie women excel,"
  5. Studies in the linguistic sciences: 22 1992
  6. Current issues in comparative grammar p367 Robert Freidin - 1996 "It turns out that replacing the longdistance anaphor with the short-distance anaphor in (52) makes the sentences acceptable: (55) a. Zhang zhidao tazijii xihuan tade nu pengyou. Zhang know himself like his girl friend"
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