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What is a referent?



Words are used to represent things and experiences in the real or imagined world. Different words can be used to describe the same thing or experience.


A referent is the concrete object or concept that is designated by a word or expression. A referent is an object, action, state, relationship, or attribute in the referential realm.


Historically, there was only one person called George Washington, the first president of the United States. He can be referred to in a text in many ways, such as

  • the president
  • Mr. Washington
  • he, or even
  • my friend.

Even though there are many ways to talk about him, there is only one referent in the referential realm.


Crystal 1985 259–260


Hartmann and Stork 1972 193


Pei and Gaynor 1954 184


Foley, W. and Van Valin 1985 283


Mish 1991 989

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Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]

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