Coherence: Synonyms and Pronouns

In addition to using a repeating word to effect sentence coherence, a writer can also use synonyms, pronouns, and repeating ideas.


The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island, was once the world’s longest suspension bridge. Its main span is 4,260 feet long. Verrazano-Narrows lost that title in 1981 to England’s Humber Bridge: Humber’s main span is 4,626 feet long. Since 1981, four other arches have been built that are even longer than Humber’s. Two of them are in China, but the longest one is in Japan. It’s the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, which is about 1,300 feet longer than the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

In the above paragraph, sentences are connected by

  • repeating “bridge”
  • using synonyms for bridge (span, arch)
  • using the names of bridges (Verrazano-NarrowsHumber, Akashi Kaikyo)
  • using a year (1981)
  • using pronouns (them, one, it)
  • revealing a bridge’s length (4,260′, 4,626′, and 1,300′ longer)

In addition, notice how the sample paragraph begins and ends with the same noun phrase (the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge). That’s a means of increasing a paragraph’s internal coherence.

Question: How else are the example’s sentences “coherently connected”?

More on Coherence

In this post, a published paragraph’s coherence will be analyzed. The paragraph is from page 13 of The Twilight Warriors by Robert Gandt, an excellent book about the fight for Okinawa during the Second World War. The numbers in parentheses are not in the original. (Pasco was a naval air station used to train aviators in a town with the same name.)

(1) Flying was the only thing the cadets liked about Pasco. (2) The remote base was enclosed with a galvanized wire fence. (3) There was nothing there but a few two-story barracks for the cadets and for the enlisted men who worked on the yellow-painted Stearmans. (4) The town of Pasco had no bars, no entertainment, and, worst of all, no available women. (5) The closest real town was Yakima, a two-hour bus ride away, but the cadets had learned that Yakima wasn’t much of an improvement over Pasco.

Coherence Analysis

  1. This sentence comments on flying at Pasco.
  2. By substituting “remote base” for “Pasco” and then describing an aspect of it, the author connects sentences 1 and 2.
  3. The second “there” in “There was nothing there” is used as a fill-in for Pasco: it’s a pronoun functioning as an adverbial. Sentence 3 provides more details about the base.
  4. “The town of Pasco” is this sentence’s connector given that the air station name starts with “Pasco.”
  5. This sentence contains two connectors. The first is “closest real town,” which connects with sentence 4’s “town.” The second is “Pasco.”

Gandt’s paragraph is an excellent example of how to effect coherence within a paragraph.


Imagine that the bulleted pair of sentences below begins a paragraph:

  • Two adjacent sentences are coherent when there’s a “logical connection” between them.
  • I just ate a banana.

What do they have in common? The first one’s about coherence and is written in third person; the second one’s about an eaten banana and is in first person. There’s no logical connection between them, so they are not coherent.

Coherence is a paragraph’s wheels. A paragraph lacking coherence will never “roll along” smoothly.

Are the next two bulleted sentences coherent?

  • Two adjacent sentences are coherent when there’s a “logical connection” between them.
  • One way to effect coherence is by repeating a word or idea.

One reason why the above two sentences are coherent is because of the repetition of two different forms of “cohere”: coherent and coherence.

Is the repetition of a word, in itself, sufficient to effect coherence? If you answered “yes,” consider the next pair of sentences.

  • The boy walked his dog.
  • The old man likes to walk every day.

The sentences share a form of “walk,” yet they could easily be discrete events with the subjects complete strangers. The boy could live in London, the man in Minneapolis.

Four Steps in Revising Your Writing

  1. The first step in revising something you wrote is to reread it — carefully. (It helps to read it aloud: that brings a second sense into the process.) Does every sentence make sense. Is its meaning crystal-clear? If you’re unsure, either reword or delete the sentence.
  2. Are any sentences wordy? That is, do they have more words than is necessary to convey their meaning?
  3. Do the sentences vary in both length and structure? A sentence can have one of four structures: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. Writing that contains a mix of those structures is usually more interesting to read.
  4. Finally, check for coherence. Two adjacent sentences are coherent if there’s a logical connection between them. According to Barbara Fine Clouse in her text, Patterns for a Purpose (5th ed.), coherence can be effected by (a) using a transitional word or phrase, (b) repeating a word or idea, (c) using a synonym as a connector, and (d) writing sentences that either “look backward” or “look forward” (77-79).