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A reference is something that is pointing at something else, that shows a connection between things. It is something that attaches two things, it need not be solid objects, it could be abstract things such as data, thoughts or memories.

In semantics, reference is the relation between nouns or pronouns[?] and objects, or between speakers and objects. Hence the word "John" refers to John'; the word "it" refers to some previously specified object. Alternatively when I say "John" I refer to John. Sometimes the former, word-object relation is called "denotation" for clarity; still, speakers only refer by using words that denote. The objects referred to are called the "referents" of the word.

Reference is not in general the same as meaning, since many words, including verbs and adjectives, do not refer at all but are perfectly meaningful. Furthermore, as Frege discovered, reference cannot be treated as identical with meaning even for nouns: "The morning star" and "the evening star" both refer to Venus, but it does not seem to be the case that if I do not know this I must not know what my words mean.

The concept of a reference is quite often used in computer science to express complex data structures such as circular lists. Most programming languages support it. For example, in Java every object is treated as a reference. In C, a pointer is a reference. See reference (computer science) for more detail.

A reference point is a location used to describe another one, by giving the relative position. Similarly we have the concept of frame of reference (both in physics and figuratively), etc.

In a library, the word reference may refer to a dictionary, encyclopedia, or other reference work that contains many brief articles that cover a broad scope of knowledge in one book, or a set of books. However, the word reference is also used to mean a book that cannot be taken from the room, or from the building. Many of the books in the reference department of a library are reference works, but some are books that are simply too large or valuable to loan out. Conversely, selected reference works may be shelved with other circulating[?] books, and may be loaned out.

See also: reference work, self reference, Library reference desk, List of reference tables

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