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

  • Cohesion is the term used to describe the grammatical means by which sentences and paragraphed are linked and relationships between them established. In English, the principal means of establishing cohesion are through the use of pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, conjuncts and adverbials to substitute, repeat, refer or omit items across a text.


  • A text would be very clumsy and irritating if we always used nouns and no pronouns. Pronouns allow speakers and writers verbal economy - we can use a pronoun to refer back or occasionally to refer forward to another noun. They also act as substitutes for nouns.

    Consider the following:

    The students were excited about their first encounter with a class. The students had prepared carefully but the students still didn't know how the students would cope in front of thirty hormonal teenagers.

    The students were excited about their first encounter with a class. They had prepared carefully but they still didn't know how they would cope in front of thirty hormonal teenagers.

    The pronouns, in red, all link back to the noun, in green.


  • Consider the following sentences which all use determiners to establish links, particularly through referring back to something already mentioned.

    A Serbian man surveyed the remains of his house. The man had lost everything he owned.

    These children are naughty. Those children are well-behaved.


  • Conjunctions play an important part in linking clauses, but they can also link across sentences. In the following two sentences, the conjunction and connects the many teachers who enjoy the role of tutor with I. And or but are often used in this way at the start of a sentence for emphasis or contrast.

    Many teachers enjoy being a tutor. And I am one of them!


  • Conjuncts can be found in all types of text but they often play a very significant role in maintaining cohesion in speeches (spoken) and in written arguments or discussions. Conjuncts can be used, for example, to order or list ideas (firstly, finally, likewise), to summarise what has preceded (to sum up, in conclusion, altogether), to contrast one idea with another (alternatively, however, on the other hand)

    There are many reasons why I cannot support capital punishment. Firstly, it is a fundamental breach of human rights and contrary to the stipulations of the Geneva Convention. Secondly, it does not act as a deterrent...


  • Adverbials of time and place establish connections between one part of a text and another and are particularly frequent in narrative. Consider the following:

    The fast train to London leaves at 7.57. Two hours later, British Rail permitting, you are in London.
    The ladies sipped chilled champagne in the conservatory. In the garden, the men drank beer and talked of little.

Other cohesive ties:

  • The methods described above principally involve individual word classes acting as substitutes for another word/group of words or as referents backwards or forwards in the text. But cohesion is not just about word classes. There are also semantic means of achieving cohesion. For example, to avoid endless repetition one noun is often used to replace another, through the use of synonym (eg The ocean was troubled; the sea boiled against the shore). Or a Proper noun may be followed by a common noun associated with it (eg Jane...the girl; Mars...the planet). Deliberate repetition can reinforce cohesive references. Another semantic device is ellipsis, where words are omitted because the context makes it clear what is meant. This happens so frequently in written and spoken discourse we rarely explicitly notice the omission. For example,

    Jane achieved six A* in her GCSE's and John five.

    The verb achieved is omitted after John and the phrase A* in his GCSE's is also omitted

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