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What is a referent?

 

Introduction
 

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.

Definition
 

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.

Example
 

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.

Sources
 

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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