Reading – Words that refer to other words

What are they?

Examples of reference word in English

In English we often use a substitute or reference word so that we don’t repeat the original word. Some of the commonest of these words are pronouns    

In this post we’ll look at how these reference words are used to organise a text.

How we use reference words

As we said above we use reference words like this so we don’t repeat the same words.  In addition we also use them to refer to different parts of a text. We often we refer back to an earlier part of a text but we can also refer forward in the text. 

Here are some of the commonest types of reference words. 

  • it, they, them, his
  • this, that, those
  • which, whose, where
  • some, others, another
  • Personal pronouns
  • Demonstratives
  • Relative pronouns
  • Determiners

Let’s see how they are used. 

  • A Your parents called earlier. 
    B Thanks, I must give them a call later.
  • Professor Dean, who has been lecturing here for 26 years, is retiring next year.
  • An awful lot of people love football,  but some find it very boring.
  • A Have you decide which coat to buy?
    B Yes, I think I like this


Refer to other parts of a text

In the previous examples we saw how we use them in sentences or short conversations. Now we’ll look at some longer examples, which are part of a text.  

Every organization, as soon as it gets to any size (perhaps 1,000 people), begins to feel a need to organise its management of workers.

Perhaps individuals have complained that they don’t know where they stand or what their future is; perhaps the unions have requested standardized benefits and procedures. 

The first extract uses different forms of the word it to refer to organisation

In the second extract different forms of they refer to individuals

In both cases the reference words refer back to an individual word.


Reference words and complex texts

Finally we’ll take a  look at example of a longer piece of text and how we use references in it. 

The manager of the furniture store told us they will receive the our new bed by August.
It‘ll be down to the manufacturing of the company and delivery schedules but we would be confident of that“,  he said.

This example is more complex and we will look at it in detail as there are a number of references in it.  
Reference word
  • they
  • our
  • that

  • he
Refers To
  • furniture store
  • us
  • they will receive our new bed by August
  • The manager




We have not included it here as it is used here as a subject to introduce new information and it is not a reference word in this text.


Reading - Referring to other words

For each of the following sentences decide what word(s) the highlighted word refers to and choose the best answer.


Perhaps individuals in companies have complained that they don’t know where they stand or what their future is; perhaps the unions have requested standardized benefits for them.

  1. The companies
  2. The workers
  3. The unions



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