A referent is the word to which another word in a sentence or text refers. It is an important element of textual cohesion . For example, a pronoun must have a referent noun which is already understood (this noun is called the pronoun's antecedent) or its meaning will be unclear or ambiguous.

Referents can be

  • exophoric (when the referent is outside of the text),
  • endophoric (when the referent is within the text),
  • anaphoric (when the reference precedes the pronoun, e.g. 'John will cook the meal he is a fine chef.' Here, the pronoun, 'he' is an anaphoric referent) or
  • cataphoric (when the referent follows the pronoun, e.g. 'I know what he means about it' said the captain about the steward's behaviour.' - here, the pronouns 'I', 'he' and 'it' all have cataphoric referents).

» Linguistic Library (Mike Green)