What is the name for the phenomenon or process by which the brain knows what "it" in a sentence refers to ? For example : I left my book on the table but when I came back, IT wasn't there.

  • 2
    The phenomenon? Sentience? Memory? I don't think this is the right forum for discussion of psychological phenomena. However, "the book" in this example would be called the antecedent, ie the thing that is referred back to.
    – Max Williams
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 14:44
  • 1
    I guess, just as in computer science, we'd call it dereferencing?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 15:01
  • Do you mean the table has gone? )))
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 11:40

1 Answer 1


Within some branches of linguistics, it may be referred to as any of the following:

  • reference resolution
  • pronoun resolution
  • pronoun reference resolution
  • anaphora resolution

Notice that reference resolution is a more general term which includes pronoun resolution.

  • 1
    The whole topic comes up in all branches of linguistics as coreference. I.e, when there are two referring NPs in an utterance that both refer to the same individual, they are said to be coreferential. Nouns and pronouns are NPs, so this covers personal pronoun it, among others. It does not, however, cover Extraposition it (It's too bad you have to leave), weather it (It's supposed to rain today), or distance it (It's a long way to Tipperary), all of which are non-referential.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 17:46
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    . anaphora/**cataphora** resolution (the 'antecedent' may follow the pronoun).
    – amI
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 18:42
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    What in the world would make anyone think now is either a preposition or a pronoun? If you don't need a special category for deictic temporals, then now seems much more adverbial than either of those choices.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 20:04
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    @aml Take a look here: link Huddleston & Pullum also call it a prep in their award-winning CGEL.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 15:03
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    @Araucaria haha! I did wonder if GKP was editing it, but that's a bit far-fetched. One thing is absolutely 100% certain and that is that it is not a noun!
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 15:14

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