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Concourse 2



For the purposes of what follows and for ease of exemplification, we will focus on written texts.  Don't, however, lose sight of the fact that these features occur frequently in spoken discourse, too.


Cohesion vs. Coherence

Consider these two exchanges:

Q: Where's John?
A: He's in the garden.
Q: Where's John?
A: The grass needed cutting.

Two questions:
1. Are these both comprehensible?
2. What's the difference in making them comprehensible?
Click here when you have an answer.

In the first dialogue, above, you saw that the pronoun he referred back to the name of the person, John.  That is known as anaphoric reference.  It means referring back to something already mentioned.

There are other sorts of referencing which can be set out like this:


Can you identify the four main sorts of referencing in this short email?

Thanks for that.  It's going to help, I think.
By the way, I'm going to take the kids out next Monday and wondered if you wanted to come.  It'll be a long drive for them but when we get there, I'll bet they'll love Chessington Zoo.
Let me know if you can make it.

Click here when you have identified one example of each type of referencing.

Notice, too, the expression in the same boat (line 27) which substitutes for almost everything in the letter.


The role of articles

There are three ways that article use contributes to cohesion and referencing.

  1. The first time a noun is mentioned, it is usually preceded (if it is countable) by the indefinite article.  The second time by the definite article, signalling to the reader/hearer that the reference is to a known item.  For example,
        A strange car was parked outside my house.  It's difficult to find a parking space in my street so I hoped the car wouldn't be there later.
    In that example, the use of the car later signals that it is a known entity and refers to the same car.
  2. Note however, that we can use the definite article to signal the only possible entity as in, e.g.:
        A car drew up and the driver got out.
    In this case, the definite article signals to the reader/hearer that it is the driver of a particular car, not just any driver.
    Consider the oddness of:
        A car drew up and a driver got out.
  3. The definite article may also refer to something outside the text which is known to both speaker/writer and reader/hearer because they share a common cultural or social milieu.  For example,
        The minister has replied to our letter
    Now, minister can mean a politician or a member of the clergy and there are probably many thousands of them around the world.  It is clear, however, from the use of the definite article that a particular minister, known to both participants in the discourse, is meant here.
    Another example, of what is called homophoric reference is to entities such as the government, the Queen, the President, the Czar etc. when knowledge of the culture precludes any other meaning.
    Exophoric referencing cannot, technically, be called cohesive because it does not connect items in the text.  It is, however, a potential barrier to understanding and makes the text coherent.


What is being connected?

Mention is briefly made above to theme-rheme structures and here's a little more on that, er, theme.

We may know what forms of cohesion there are in English but unless we know what to connect with what, the picture is incomplete and the knowledge is unused (and useless).

There is a separate guide to theme-rheme structures on this site where you should go for more detail but, briefly, the theme is the jumping off point for the clause and what follows it is the rheme.  That rheme often forms the theme of the next clause with a new rheme which, in turn forms the theme of a subsequent clause.  The structure of this form of cohesion can be exemplified like this:

Mary came to the party and she brought her brother.  He turned out to be an interesting person because he worked in television with some quite famous people.  They included some of my favourite personalities.

In which we have the first theme (Mary) with its rheme (came to the party) and then the theme repeated, with linking additive coordination (and) and pronoun substitution (she) with a new rheme brought her brother.  That rheme forms the theme of the next clause (turned out to be an interesting person) which is connected by subordination (because) with the next pronoun substitution (he) with its rheme (worked in television with some quite famous people).  That rheme becomes the next theme (they) which has the rheme included some of my favourite personalities.
And so on.  We would expect at some time that the personalities will become the theme of another clause which will have its own rheme.

The moral is that teaching people how to make texts cohesive without teaching what items need cohesive links is a waste of valuable time.

Related guides
articles for more on article use
substitution and ellipsis for more about how these are used to maintain cohesion
deixis for a more technical guide to the area
pro-forms for more on pronouns and more
discourse guides the in-service index to this area (including genre and theme-rheme structures)

Of course there's a test.

Nothing in this area is complete with reference to Halliday MAK & Hasan R, 1976, Cohesion in English, Harlow: Longman