Reading and Writing

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 813–827 | Cite as

Aspects of pronominal resolution as markers of reading comprehension: the role of antecedent variability

  • Carsten Elbro
  • Jane Oakhill
  • Hakima Megherbi
  • Alix Seigneuric


This study explored pronominal resolution as a measure of reading comprehension beyond single sentences. Specifically, it was hypothesized that the ability to specify the referents of pronouns like this and these that have variable antecedents would be a good probe of the quality of the reader’s mental model. This idea was tested in a study of 123 French eight-year-olds. After controlling for word decoding, vocabulary and syntactic knowledge, various aspects of pronominal comprehension were found to contribute independent variance to reading comprehension: (1) pronominal knowledge as measured in a pronoun selection task, (2) referent specification of pronouns that refer to protagonists. In addition, (3) referent specification of pronouns (French y and en) with variable antecedents added further independent variance. The results support the idea that the ability to specify referents accounts for unique variance in reading comprehension and may tap the quality of the reader’s mental model of preceding text.


Reading comprehension Pronoun resolution Referent specification Antecedent variability Children 



This work was supported by the Program of Visiting Professor of the University Paris 13 Sorbonne Paris Cité (Carsten Elbro and Jane Oakhill) and by the French National Agency (ANR-DEVCOMP 10-blan-1907-01). The tests of reading comprehension and written word identification were developed as a part of the larger project supported by the ANR grant. We thank the coordinator of the project, Prof. Maryse Bianco, for the collaboration on the construction of the comprehension test. We also thank Prof. Pascale Colé and Prof. Liliane Sprenger-Charolles for allowing us to use their test of written word identification, for their French version of the TROG test of syntax, and for their selection of the items for the French version of the PPVT test. We are grateful to Aurélie Nardy, Amandine Herbelin, Anais Joly, Sarah-Lee Salas, Océane Marchand, Morgane Pouget for their assistance with data collection. We are truly indebted to the participants and their teachers for their voluntary and solid efforts and to the inspectors, directors of the circumscriptions of Rueil Malmaison, of the 11ème arrondissement of Paris and of Nantes for their cooperation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.University of SussexBrightonUK
  3. 3.EA4403 – UTRPPUniversité Paris 13 - SPCVilletaneuseFrance

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