Cohesion (linguistics)

Cohesion is the grammatical and lexical relationship within a text or sentence. Cohesion can be defined as the links that hold a text together and give it meaning. There are two main types of cohesion: grammatical, referring to the structural content, and lexical, referring to the language content of the piece. A cohesive text is created in many different ways. In Cohesion in English, M.A.K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan identify five general categories of cohesive devices that create coherence in texts: reference, ellipsis, substitution, lexical cohesion, and conjunction.


Cohesion can be achieved through the use of the following referential devices:

  • Anaphoric reference is the most common type of reference, used unknowingly in everyday conversation and writing. It occurs when the writer refers back to someone or something that has been previously identified, to avoid repetition. Some examples: replacing "the taxi driver" with the pronoun "he" or "two attractive girls" with "they". Another example can be found in formulas such as "as stated previously" or "the aforementioned".
  • Cataphoric reference is less common in speech but can be used for dramatic effect in writing. It occurs when the audience is introduced to someone as an abstract, before later learning his or her name. For example: "Here he comes, our award-winning host... it's John Doe!" Cataphoric references can also be found in written text, for example "see page 10".
  • Exophoric reference is also uncommon in speech but can be used to describe generic or abstract situations in writing. It occurs when the writer chooses not to introduce a character (or group of characters), but instead refers to them by a generic word such as "everyone". The prefix "exo" means "outside", and the persons or events referred to in this manner will never be identified by the writer. Th computer program [Coh-metrix] measures indices of cohesion.


Ellipsis is another cohesive device. It happens when, after a more specific mention, words are omitted when the phrase needs to be repeated.

A simple conversational example:

A: Where are you going?
B: To town.
The full form of B's reply would be: "I am going to town".

A simple written example:

The younger child was very outgoing, the older much more reserved.

The omitted words from the second clause are "child" and "was".


Substitution is very similar to ellipsis in the effect it has on the text, and occurs when instead of leaving a word or phrase out, as in ellipsis, it is substituted for another, more general word. For example, "Which ice-cream would you like?" - "I would like the pink one" where "one" is used instead of repeating "ice-cream." This works in a similar way to pronouns, which replace the noun. For example, 'Ice-cream' is a noun, and its pronoun could be 'It'. 'I dropped the ice-cream, it was dirty'. - Replacing the noun for a pronoun. 'I dropped the green ice-cream, it was the only one i had'. - the second sentence contains the pronoun (It), and the substitution (One). Don't mix up the two because they both serve different purposes: one to link back and one to replace.

Lexical cohesion

Lexical cohesion is basically created by repetition (reiteration) of the same lexeme, or general (aka shell) nouns, or other lexemes sharing the majority of semantic features: The bus ... - the vehicle ... - the chassis ....

Lexical cohesion can also form relational patterns in text in a way that links sentences to create an overall feature of coherence with the audience, sometimes overlapping with other cohesion features. The understanding of how the content of sentences is linked helps to identify the central information in texts by means of a possible summary. This allows judgements on what the text is about.


Conjunction creates cohesion by relating sentences and paragraphs to each other by using words from the class of conjunction, or numerals. This can be temporal (after,before), causal (because), coordinating (and), adversative (but, however), additive (further) or discourse markers (now, well, after all).


  • Halliday, M.A.K; and Ruqayia Hasan (1976): Cohesion in English. London: Longman.
  • Hoey, Michael (1991): Patterns of Lexis in Text. Oxford: OUP.

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