An “anaphoric phrase” that refers to a concept you have to glean from the text

(Quick review of anaphora here and here. Dictionary definition here.)

QUESTION: In the paragraph below, what does the phrase “such distinctions” mean?

Some combinations of words are possible in English, while others are not possible. Every native speaker of English can easily judge that ‘Home computers are now much cheaper’ is a possible English sentence, whereas “Home computers now much are cheaper” is not, because they know that “much” is wrongly positioned in the second example. The ability to recognise such distinctions is evidence that in some sense native speakers already know the rules of grammar, even if they have never formally studied grammar….” *

When we read this paragraph in class, everyone had trouble! Not a single person figured it out.

DT said something I found intriguing. He assumed that the words “such distinctions” referred to something outside the text, in the real world.

I mentioned in another post (here) that many students have trouble interpreting anaphora. Perhaps the problem is that students are looking for the meaning outside the text instead of inside?

I wonder.

Whatever the explanation, the phrase “such distinctions is an anaphora, and the meanings of anaphora are always found inside the text. Not outside.

IMPORTANT: Most of the time, the meaning of an anaphora lies exactly one sentence back. That is true because in the work of professional writers most sentences refer back to the sentences just before them. (The word “that,” in the last sentence, is an anaphora referring to the sentence before it.)

The sentence one back from the “such distinctions” sentence is:

Every native speaker of English can easily judge that ‘Home computers are now much cheaper’ is a possible English sentence, whereas “Home computers now much are cheaper” is not, because they know that “much” is wrongly positioned in the second example.

Here’s another way of saying the same thing:

Every native speaker of English knows the distinction [difference] between ‘Home computers are now much cheaper’ and ‘Home computers now much are cheaper.’ The distinction between these two sentences is that the first sentence is grammatical and the second sentence is ungrammatical.

Here’s the whole passage again:

Every native speaker of English can easily judge that ‘Home computers are now much cheaper’ is a possible English sentence, whereas “Home computers now much are cheaper” is not, because they know that “much” is wrongly positioned in the second example. The ability to recognise such distinctions is evidence that in some sense native speakers already know the rules of grammar….

Such distinctions” refers to “grammatical distinctions.” The authors are saying that native speakers can naturally tell the difference between grammatical and ungrammatical sentences without having to study grammar in school.

Why is it so difficult for student readers to interpret “such distinctions“?

The answer may be, at least in part, that “such distinctions” refers to a concept or idea (the grammar knowledge native speakers possess), not a person, place, or thing.

You have to understand the idea to understand the anaphora.

Companion Website for An Introduction to English Grammar, Third Edition

* Excerpt from Greenbaum and Nelson’s An Introduction to English Grammar

AND SEE:
William J. Kerrigan on Step 6
Richard Hudson defines anaphora
A very simple example of “anaphora”

Anaphora in a two-sentence pair

The words in blue are examples of anaphora:

Sentence fragments have long been a form that most teachers try to eradicate from student writing. However well intentioned this may be, does it help students become better writers of nonfiction?

The words this and it both refer to trying to eradicate sentence fragments from student writing.

When writers use different words or expressions to “rename” or refer back to something that appeared earlier in the text, they are using anaphora.

To understand what a word like “this” or “it” means, you have to know which word or words, or which idea, “this” or “it” has replaced.

Here’s what the two sentences above might sound like without “this” and “it”:

Sentence fragments have long been a form that most teachers try to eradicate from student writing. However well intentioned trying to eradicate sentence fragments from student writing may be, does trying to eradicate sentence fragments from student writing help students become better writers of nonfiction?

As a general rule, you can’t find out what anaphora mean by looking them up in the dictionary.

The meaning of anaphora is inside the text you are reading, not the dictionary.

FULL PASSAGE HERE

AND SEE:
William J. Kerrigan on Step 6

Where does the thesis statement go, part 2

More from Maxine Rodburg:

Keep your thesis prominent in your introduction. A good, standard place for your thesis statement is at the end of an introductory paragraph, especially in shorter (5-15 page) essays. Readers are used to finding theses there, so they automatically pay more attention when they read the last sentence of your introduction. Although this is not required in all academic essays, it is a good rule of thumb.
Copyright 1999, Maxine Rodburg and The Tutors of the Writing Center at Harvard University

Why do jumbled sentence puzzles?

Question: Why work jumbled sentence puzzles?

Answer: To help with reading and writing.

As a general rule, our minds are built to notice and remember the meaning of a sentence, not its specific words or form.

For example, if I ask you to put your desks in a horseshoe, you won’t remember later on whether I said:

Please put your desks in a horseshoe.” or
I prefer that your desks be arranged in a horseshoe.” or
Could someone help me put these desks in a horseshoe?”

And so on. Our minds seem to go straight to the gist.

That’s great for holding a conversation or reading a book, but it’s not so great for learning to write academic prose, which has very little in common with everyday speech. To write well, you must pay attention directly to the specific words and grammatical options” you are using (and not using).

In theory, a jumbled sentence puzzle should force your mind to tune into the specific words — and the specific arrangement of those words — inside some else’s exemplary sentence.

At least, that’s the theory. It makes sense to me.

Anaphora in a passage on sentence fragments

I’ve marked the anaphora in this passage from Edgar H. Schuster’s “A Fresh Look at Sentence Fragments”:

Sentence fragments have long been a form that most teachers try to eradicate from student writing. However well intentioned this may be, does it help students become better writers of nonfiction? Partly to answer this question, I examined the fifty essays reprinted in The Best American Essays 2001 (Norris and Atwan) and The Best American Essays, 2003 (Fadiman and Atwan).

It was exciting to observe the range of the syntactic resources these writers called on and used effectively. They include some things [see below] we English teachers commonly teach against, such as comma splices, single-sentence paragraphs, even occasional rambling sentences. But what struck me [see below] far more forcefully was the extent to which these essayists used sentence fragments. At the outset, it should be said that the backbone of virtually every essay in these collections is the complete, well-formed English sentence. Nevertheless, I found 505 sentence fragments in the fifty essays.

Now I’ve numbered the anaphora and explained what they refer to:

Sentence fragments have long been a form that most teachers try to eradicate from student writing. However well intentioned this [1] may be, does it [2] help students become better writers of nonfiction? Partly to answer this question [3], I examined the fifty essays reprinted in The Best American Essays 2001 (Norris and Atwan) and The Best American Essays, 2003 (Fadiman and Atwan).

It was exciting to observe the range of the syntactic resources these writers [4] called on and used effectively. They [5] include some things [see below] we English teachers commonly teach against, such as comma splices, single-sentence paragraphs, even occasional rambling sentences. But what struck me [see below] far more forcefully was the extent to which these essayists [6] used sentence fragments. At the outset, it should be said that the backbone of virtually every essay in these collections [7] is the complete, well-formed English sentence. Nevertheless, I found 505 sentence fragments in the fifty essays. [8]

  1. this” refers back to teachers trying to eradicate sentence fragments from student writing
  2. it” also refers to teachers trying to eradicate sentence fragments from student writing
  3. this question” refers back to the question “Does trying to eradicate sentence fragments from student writing help students become better writers?”
  4. these writersrefers back to the authors of the essays in The Best American Essays 2001 and 200e.
  5. Theyrefers back to the syntactic resources the authors of the essays in The Best American Essays use.
  6. these essayists refers back to the authors of the essays in the two Best American Essays books
  7. these collectionsrefers back to the two Best American Essays books
  8. the fifty essaysrefers back to the fifty essays in the two Best American Essay books

The words in orange are examples of cataphora. “Things” andwhat struck me both refer forward to words in the passage.

  1. things refers forward to comma splices, single-sentence paragraphs, and rambling sentences
  2. what struck me refers forward to “the extent to which essayists in the 2 books used comma splices, single-sentence paragraphs, and rambling sentences.”

Schuster, Edgar H. “A Fresh Look at Sentence Fragments.” The English Journal 95.5 (2006). Print. (78-83).

(The original passage, including links, is here.)

AND SEE:
William J. Kerrigan on Step 6

A jumbled sentence

INSTRUCTIONS: Unscramble the list below to produce a Winston Churchill sentence on the subject of the English sentence. (The ellipsis after “sentence” indicates that I’ve removed some words from the original.)

After you’ve finished, write the complete sentence on a piece of paper. Try to write the whole sentence from memory. If you can’t write the complete sentence by heart, write the complete subject and the complete predicate from memory.

_____ of the ordinary
_____ is
_____ British sentence…
_____ a noble thing
_____ the essential structure

ANSWER