I've been trying to understand an answer from another SE site (Japanese Language & Usage) where the answer involves the differences between anaphora and deixis. Here is the link.

What would be the difference between anaphoric and deictic usage? If possible, please provide some examples showing the differences.

  • 2
    By the way, anaphora is a (Greek) plural noun, while deictic is an adjective. If you want them both to modify usage in the question, you should use anaphoric instead for parallelism. And neither one needs scare quotes; they're standard terms.
    – jlawler
    Jul 25, 2012 at 18:22
  • 1
    The scare quotes were added by @hippietrail, probably because titles here don't seem to be able to contain italics.
    – kaleissin
    Jul 25, 2012 at 21:24
  • I didn't intend them to be "scare" quotes, just trying to distinguish mention from use since as kaleissin says italics etc can't be used in titles. Feel free to revert or clarify in some other way. Jul 25, 2012 at 22:41
  • 1
    @jlawler Anaphora is not a Greek neuter plural, but a feminine singular.
    – TKR
    Jan 1, 2019 at 22:02

2 Answers 2


I don't know any Japanese, but generally, an anaphora is an expression that refers to something mentioned earlier in the text:

John is tired because he has been working all day.

Mary said the moon is made of cheese. I don't believe that.

He in the first example refers to John; that in the second one refers to the moon being made of cheese.

A deixis is an expression whose exact meaning varies with the context in which it is uttered.

  • Who exactly is meant by you? That depends on who is being spoken to.
  • Where is here? Whereever the speaker is, or where he is pointing to.
  • What time will it be in one hour? That depends on when it is being said.
  • Thanks, I think I'm starting to understand the difference!
    – Ci3
    Jul 25, 2012 at 7:02

I'd like to go a bit more in depth about this.


Traditionally, by deixis is meant the location and identification of person, objects, events, processes and activities being talked about, or referred to, in relation to the spatiotemporal context created and sustained by the act of utterance and the participation in it, typically, of a single speaker and at least one addressee; we can analyze them this way:

  1. Person deixis: those that are used to refer to speaker and addressee (I, you, we);
  2. Place deixis: those that refer to spatial context (here, there);
  3. Time deixis: these that refer to temporal context (now, then, verb tense markers);
  4. Discourse deixis: those that refer to parts of unfolding discourse (next, below, furthermore);
  5. Social deixis: those that encode aspects of the social relationship between speaker and addressee (Her Majesty);
  6. Perceptual deixis: There's Harry.

Deixis concerns the use of certain linguistic expressions to locate entities in spatiotemporal, social and discursive context. First and second person pronouns, demonstratives, tense, certain place and time adverbials, verbs such as come, go, bring, take and fetch. Such deictic expressions encode specific aspects of the speech event and cannot be interpreted unless contextual parameters are taken into account.

Without physical context we cannot interpret utterances like:

I'll meet you over there.
See you tomorrow.
Will be back in 10 minutes.
You, you and you, come over here.
He does not like that.
Put that here and then move this over there.

Deictic expressions refer to a deictic field of language whose zero point is fixed by the person who is speaking, the place of utterance and the time of utterance (I, here, now, respectively, etc). Deictic constructions construct the speaker as the deictic center.

Anaphora and Cataphora

Anaphora, along with cataphora and other devices, belong to the so-called Patterns of reduction. In other words they allow you to say less, but still keep sense in your utterances.

  • Anaphora = reference backward
  • Cataphora = reference forward

Anaphora is a lower expenditure of cognitive effort for recovering the conceptual content of the co-referring expression (more efficient) - the identity of the content is made plain in advance. Cataphora's processing requires the creation of a temporarily empty slot until the required content is supplied (low efficiency): it is often used to generate uncertainty and to intensify receiver's interest (effectiveness).

The difference

The Anaphora, in the linguistics sense, makes use of deictic expressions:

Sam went home because he was tired.

"He" is the anaphora expression referring to "Sam", but it's also a deictic expression, i.e. it changes according to the context/subject.

Deixis, on the other hand, is not necessarily related to anaphora. For example, there's no anaphora in this sentence:

You, you and you, come over here.

Those are just deictic expressions referring to 3 different subjects, but no anaphora.

  • 2
    Very simple distinction: First and Second Person are Deixis, Third Person is Anaphora.
    – jlawler
    Jul 25, 2012 at 16:39
  • 2
    Oh, and if anybody is interested, Fillmore's 1971 Santa Cruz Deixis Lectures are available here.
    – jlawler
    Jul 25, 2012 at 16:41
  • 1
    Thanks for this information, it makes it very clear to understand my answer now.
    – Ci3
    Jul 25, 2012 at 21:31

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