What grammar explains a noun referring to the previous whole sentence or phrase?

Alan Turing is probably best known for cracking the Nazi code known as Enigma, a feat depicted in the 2014 film "The Imitation Game." NPR

Here, "a feat" refers to cracking the Nzi code known as Enigma, and

A collection of Silicon Valley Executives, engineers and activists are quietly plotting a progressive counterattack against President Donald Trump, a sign of the industry's growing anger at his election victory and actions on immigration. Silicon Valley leaders organizing against Trump

Here, a sign refers to the whole previous sentence.

Could you please let me know what grammar should I search for to study this? Thank you.

2 Answers 2


The words "feat" and "sign" are not being used as a type of pronoun. It is just the meaning in context of the word "feat" is understood to mean "the feat of cracking the nazi code".

This isn't really a grammatical function, it is a matter of "semantics", in particular the "determination" of the meaning of word from its context, and the ellipsis of a phrase which determines the meaning of a word when the meaning is understood.

On this site we call this "meaning in context", but I don't think that will give much if you google. This isn't a grammatical function of the words, so you won't find it discussed on grammar sites.

  • Thanks. Then how can I know the rule of it? Can I just put a noun referring to the previous sentence/phrase in the previous clause after it? Jul 16, 2019 at 5:43
  • This isn't a "rule". It is just using a word. When I use a word, what I mean is determined by the context. This isn't only true of English, it is true of all languages all the time.
    – James K
    Jul 16, 2019 at 5:45
  • 1
    @MangoGummy You are, however, correct to think of it in an analogous fashion to pronouns. If you want to study the equivalent grammar, what's being used to parse the meaning of the sentences, then look up how to use the pronoun that. In both of these sentences, the noun could be replaced by that is (if it followed a semicolon or started a new sentence), and the referent of the pronoun would be identical to what the noun is referring to. Jul 16, 2019 at 15:10
  • Analyse the surface structure of the clause, not some paraphrase of it.
    – BillJ
    Jul 17, 2019 at 8:01

Alan Turing is probably best known for cracking the Nazi code known as Enigma, [a feat depicted in the 2014 film "The Imitation Game"].

"A feat" is not a pro-form here. Its function is that of head of the bracketed expression, an ascriptive noun phrase supplement.

Supplements are loosely attached expression set off by intonation (and usually punctuation) presenting supplementary non-integrated content. They are not modifiers; rather, they have a semantic 'anchor' that they refer to. In this case, the anchor is the clause "cracking the Nazi code known as Enigma".

The same analysis applies to your other example.

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