When I was learning English in high school, the "standard" textbook compared English grammar with Chinese grammar, saying while in Chinese the noun is usually put in the first clause and its pronouns follow afterwards, no matter which one is the main clause and which ones are subordinate, in English the noun should be placed in the main clause and its pronouns in the subordinate clauses, regardless of the order of the clauses.

However, two native speakers, who answered my another question (What's the grammar of “was as far as ever from realizing his dream of an independent Italian kingdom”?), think different.

@Michael Harvey said "That 'rule' is often ignored."

@Java Latte said "For ease of reading, it is better to put the name in the first clause and the pronoun in the second clause. It is a matter of stylistic variation to swap them."

So I'm wondering whether there is a rule of arranging the noun and its pronouns, and if yes, what's the rule, or if no, i.e. there're only stylistic variations, which style is better/your favorite?

  • 1
    In English, anaphora is far more common, but cataphora is certainly allowed. It is a stylistic choice. It's not a matter of having a favorite. You wouldn't want to use ten sentences in a row, say, all of which use cataphora.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


We are comparing sentences with a subordinate clause, in which a pronoun in one clause refers to a noun in the other clause.

Although it is full of eels, my hovercraft is very fast.

Although my hovercraft is full of eels, it is very fast.

My hovercraft is very fast although it is full of eels.

It is very fast although my hovercraft is full of eels.

Most writers would avoid the last one. There is no indication in the main clause that a subordinate clause is coming. You feel frustrated that you don't know what "it" refers to.

Stylistically, end-focus plays a role. The last part of a sentence tends to have the most important information. This makes the second sentence grammatically correct and following all the rules of English, but a weaker sentence. Somehow the main clause with a pronoun seems a disappointing way to finish that sentence.

The first gives us a conjunction (although) that clearly signposts that the required reference for the word "it" will be coming soon. The main point of information is that the hovercraft is very fast The third focuses on the surprising fact that there are eels in the hovercraft.

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    For literary writing, I would agree with you about the second sentence, however for technical writing, I would prefer to sacrifice literary elegance for clarity and ease of reading, and put the pronoun after the noun that it refers to.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 9:50

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