- Appositives are nouns or noun phrases that identify the nouns directly preceding them.
- Appositives can be a single word or a several-word phrase.
- The two types of appositives are restrictive and nonrestrictive.
- Restrictive appositives are essential to the meaning of the sentence.
- Nonrestrictive appositives are not essential and are offset by commas or parentheses.
The word appositive sounds like a happy term, and for a good reason. When you want to spice up your writing or add extra information, appositives do the trick. But are you using them correctly? Should they have commas or not? We’ve got answers and examples to spare, and they’re all right here.
What is an Appositive?
In some instances, appositives may come before the nouns they used to identify rather than after them.
In each of these cases, the appositives offer additional information about the noun or pronoun that they describe. Without appositives, we wouldn’t know that Professor Robinson is the only teacher with tenure. Also, we wouldn’t know that the car zooming through the intersection was a bright red convertible.
In that sentence, “my cat” is in apposition to “Bengal,” as “my cat” is describing or defining what “Bengal” is.
What are the Two Types of Appositives?
Appositives can be restrictive or nonrestrictive. You can quickly tell the difference by looking at how the sentence is punctuated. In most cases, they’re offset by commas. This happens because the extra information is a nonrestrictive clause. Meaning, it’s interesting but not essential to the sentence. If you remove it, the author’s original meaning will still be intact.
The fact that Gordon Ramsay is known for turning around failing restaurants is true, whether or not we also know he’s a Michelin-star chef. Therefore, the Michelin-star clause is a bonus rather than being essential. The correct structure here is to offset the appositive (a Michelin-star chef) with commas.
Nonrestrictive appositives can also come at the end of a sentence. In that case, you would use a single comma just before the appositives or appositive phrases, and a period in the end.
In some cases, an appositive is necessary to the sentence. So, it becomes restrictive. Because it can’t be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence, the appositive is not offset by commas.
“Lebron James” is restrictive, because without it, we wouldn’t know which basketball player is making that special appearance.
What is an Example of an Appositive Phrase?
Remember, appositives can be either a single word or a multi-word phrase. For instance, you could describe your boss by her name, Jenny, or describe her as an award-winning journalist. The first is a single-word appositive, while the second would be considered an appositive phrase.
Here are a few more examples of appositive phrases:
Always use commas or parentheses to offset nonrestrictive appositives. If you’re not sure whether the word or phrase is nonrestrictive, ask yourself if it’s essential to the sentence. Essential appositives eat the commas, so there are none left. Non-essential appositives need commas—N and N go together!
Without the appositive phrase “Ms. Lu” in the sentence, you would have no idea which teacher wants to see you after class. The phrase is essential, or restrictive, so no commas are necessary.
It’s a nice little tidbit to learn that Rachel is an employee of Bloomingdale’s, but that doesn’t change who she’s in love with. It’s fun information, but not essential. That makes it a nonrestrictive phrase, and we know to offset it with commas.
You can also offset nonrestrictive appositives in other ways if the alternatives suit your style and purpose.
Appositives are a simple way to infuse your writing with color and interest. However, that’s the case if you handle them properly. Pay attention to sentence structure, double-check your punctuation, and ensure your meaning stays intact no matter what.