While teaching a class recently, I used the word antecedent. Two people looked confused. We writers (and especially editors) throw that word around quite a bit. We usually ask, “What is the antecedent?”
Here’s a simple answer: An antecedent is a noun which is replaced by a pronoun. Sometimes antecedent stands for a group of words that act as a single noun.
The most common is the use of it. For example: My new job doesn’t seem to get anywhere. Harry objects to everything, Marilyn passively shrugs, and Esther agrees without hearing the entire argument. It is chaotic.
Question: To what does it refer? Logically and grammatically, it refers to the last-mentioned noun. Thus, Esther is chaotic. We can easily fix the problem with these words: The situation is chaotic.