• Coherence as a grammatical term contrasts with cohesion, both being necessary components of effectively organised and meaningful discourse.

  • Coherence is the term used to describe the way a text establishes links in meaning within and between sentences. Essentially coherence is concerned with the content of a text, the meaning it is attempting to convey. When texts are not coherent, they do not make sense or they make it difficult for the reader to follow and understand.

  • Coherence often relies heavily on reader knowledge and sometimes the coherence is weak because too much knowledge is assumed. For example, a car sticker for Exeter University reads

    Exeter - probably the best university in the world.

    which relies on the reader knowing the lager adverts which make use of a similar slogan. Without this knowledge, the use of the word probably would be most odd!

    Similarly, the following dialogue relies upon the reader making the appropriate inference or connections between the two sentences.

    Jane: You were late again this morning.
    Ann: I was up all night with the baby.

    Both speakers leave out information which they expect the other (and a reader or listener) to fill in. We tend to recognise the implicit question in Jane's statement, and to make the inference necessary in Ann's reply to read it as an explanation. The sub-text of this dialogue could be rewritten thus:

    Jane: Why were you late again this morning?
    Ann: I was late again because I was up all night with the baby.

  • Another means of maintaining coherence is to ensure that there is consistency in the ideas conveyed by the text. So a narrative which introduces a character called John Smith in chapter one who mysteriously disappears and is replaced by a Joe Smith in chapter 2 loses coherence (unless the switch is deliberate). Likewise, a narrative which does not maintain consistency between plot settings and in the narrative action loses coherence. Dickens was a master of this kind of coherence, managing to interweave intricate, complex plots with large numbers of characters and still arrive at a resolution which is coherently connected to all that has gone before.

  • The vocabulary used can also aid coherence in several ways. Firstly, the topic being written or talked about may invite a certain vocabulary, either technical words (Poetry criticism might invite metaphor, simile, form, style etc) or simply words associated with the topic (Summer might invite heat, holidays, sunshine, roses etc). An inappropriate choice of vocabulary can disrupt the coherence, whereas particularly well-chosen vocabulary can enhance it.

    The second way vocabulary can aid coherence is in the connections which may exist between one word and another which allows the writer or speaker to assume the reader/listener's understanding. For example

    He hated exams. He had failed all his GCSE's with distinction.
    Everyone should wear Nikes. The perfect trainer!
Advanced      Teaching Implications      Test yourself online

You are currently here: Discourses > Coherence. The next page in this section is Advanced Coherence.