Grammar 10 min read

How to Easily Enrich Your Writing with an Appositive

Main Appositive Takeaways:

  • Appositives are nouns, pronouns, or noun phrases that help add more information about other nouns. They sit next to the noun that they identify or describe.
  • Appositives can be a single word or a phrase.
  • The two types of appositives are restrictive and nonrestrictive.
  • Restrictive (essential) appositives are essential to the meaning of the sentence. You don’t need a comma or parenthesis to offset these kinds of appositives.
  • Nonrestrictive (nonessential) appositives are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. You need a comma to offset these kinds of appositives.
My cousin, a gymnast, won silver at the Rio Olympics.
Our friend Eric is known for his bad jokes.

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? This easy article will cover everything you need to know about apposition with simple examples and clear explanations.

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Two young men talking to each other. The guy on the right is telling his friend that his dog, Dexter, is coming with them.
We use an appositive noun or noun phrase to define or identify further a noun or a noun phrase that precedes it. In the image above, the appositive phrase “my dog” defines who “Dexter” is.

What is an Appositive in English?

In English, an appositive can be a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun next to the main noun or pronoun that helps identify or explain the main noun. Appositives in English often appear with modifiers. They may be a single word or several words, but the intent is the same. In other words, an appositive is a way to add supplementary detail about the main noun in a sentence. In fact, the word appositive comes from the Latin word appositivus, which means subsidiary or supplementary.

What is the Purpose of Apposition?

The purpose of apposition is to identify, explain, or add more detail about the main noun or pronoun in a sentence. Apposition occurs when you place two coordinate elements side-by-side in a sentence and the second element describes the first. In this way, appositives make writing richer by adding more detail.

Apposition describes the relationship of the appositive noun or noun phrase to the noun it’s describing.

What is an Appositive and Appositive Phrase?

An appositive defines or identifies the main noun or pronoun that it sits beside. An appositive phrase is made up of an appositive and its modifiers. There are two types of appositives. First, nonrestrictive or nonessential appositives provide nonessential information about the main noun or pronoun. This type is nonessential because if you remove it from the sentence, the sentence still makes sense. Second, restrictive or essential appositives provide essential information about the main noun. If you remove it, the sentence no longer makes sense.

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.

Two types of appositives. Type 1 restrictive. Sentence structure: Noun, appositive, rest of the sentence. Type 2 nonrestrictive. Sentence structure: Noun, comma before and after appositive, rest of the sentence.
There are two types of appositives: restrictive and nonrestrictive. Restrictive (essential) appositives are essential to the meaning of the sentence. Nonrestrictive (nonessential) appositives are not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

Why are Appositives Important?

Appositives are an important writing tool because they help add color and detail to writing. For example, appositives add variation and improve rhythm by offering an alternative to lots of short, consecutive sentences. Furthermore, appositives can help make your writing more concise and interesting. They do this by helping combine multiple simple sentences into one complex sentence with a more captivating flow.

[Example]Carleen is a Canadian national. Carleen is an accomplished writter.[/example]

A Canadian national, Carleen is an accomplished writer.
Carleen, a Canadian national, is an accomplished writer.
Carleen, an accomplished writer, is a Canadian national.

What is an Example of Appositives?

Appositives are noun or noun phrases that sit beside the main noun to describe, help identify, explain, or give more information about that main noun. For example: My cat, Bengal, is bigger than you might expect. In the example, “my cat” is in apposition to “Bengal.” This is because “my cat” is describing or defining what “Bengal” is.

Here are more examples of appositives and apposition in action:

Georgia’s birds, Tweet and Chirp, love it when she puts on the Nature Channel.
My journal, a small green book, holds all my secrets.
I was so excited to see his movie, an independent film about skateboarding.
The car, a bright red convertible, zoomed through the intersection.
The dermatologist, Dr. Miller, looked me over from head to toe.
Sometimes, appositives may come before the nouns they used to identify rather than after them.
The only teacher with tenure, Professor Robinson was as much a fixture on campus as the fountain in the quad.
Made of Pernambuco wood, the violin bow was practically priceless.

In each of these cases, the appositives offer additional information about the noun or pronoun that they describe. For instance, without appositives, we wouldn’t know that Professor Robinson is the only teacher with tenure.

How do you Write an Appositive?

Appositives can come at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence, but they must contain a noun. What’s more, the appositive should come directly after the noun or pronoun that it describes. That said, here’s how to correctly write an appositive: First, find a main noun in a sentence. Then, directly next to the main noun, insert a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that further identifies or explains that main noun. If the appositive is essential or restrictive, you don’t need to offset it with commas or parenthesis. However, if it is essential, you do.

Carleen is an accomplished writer.
Carleen, a Canadian national, is an accomplished writer.

What are the Two Types of Appositives?

The two types of appositives are essential and nonessential. Each type is punctuated differently, so it’s important to know the difference. For example, essential (restrictive) appositives are not offset with commas or parenthesis. They contain information that is essential to the sentence, and the sentence would be unclear with out it. Conversely, nonessential (nonrestrictive) appositives are offset by commas or parenthesis. They contain information that interesting but not essential to the sentence. If you remove it, the author’s original meaning will still be clear.

Gordon Ramsay, a Michelin-star chef, is known for turning around failing restaurants.

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.

They have a reservation at Barbuto, a legendary restaurant in NYC.

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.

The basketball player Lebron James is making a special appearance this weekend.

“Lebron James” is restrictive, because without it, we wouldn’t know which basketball player is making that special appearance.

It’s important to punctuate appositives correctly. Without commas in the right place, your sentence could lose its meaning. Or convey an entirely different message than the one you intended.

1. What is an Essential Appositive?

Some appositives are essential (also called restrictive). They are called this because the information they contain is essential to the sentence. For instance, if you remove the appositive, the meaning of the sentence changes. As such, we’re restricted from removing it. Essential appositives aren’t offset but commas, dashes, or parentheses.

The writer Carleen is a Canadian national.
The writer, Carleen, is a Canadian national.

2. What is a Nonrestrictive Appositive?

When you remove a nonrestrictive or nonessential appositive from the sentence, the subject of the sentence is still clear. Therefore, a nonrestrictive appositive contains additional information about the subject that is nice to have and helps add detail to the sentence, but is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. As a result, you are not restricted from removing it from the sentence. Always use commas or parentheses to offset nonrestrictive appositives.

Pro Tip: 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. Nonessential appositives need commas—N and N go together.
Your teacher, Ms. Lu, wants to see you after class.
Your teacher Ms. Lu wants to see you after class.

Without the appositive phrase “Ms. Lu” in the sentence, you would have no idea which teacher wants to see you after class. Since the phrase is essential, or restrictive, no commas are necessary.

Rachel who works for Bloomingdale’s is madly in love with Ross.
Rachel, who works for Bloomingdale’s, is madly in love with Ross.

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. For this reason, we know to offset it with commas.

You can also offset nonrestrictive appositives in other ways if the alternatives suit your style and purpose.

(Commas) My sister-in-law, a dedicated middle-school principal, often works long hours.
(Dashes) My sister-in-law—a dedicated middle-school principal—often work long hours.
(Parenthesis) My sister-in-law (a dedicated middle-school principal) often work long hours.

Can you have two Appositives in a Sentence?

If you are careful not to overwhelm the reader with too much information, multiple appositives can be an effective writing tool. On one hand, double or triple appositives can help add detail and additional information to your sentence. Additionally, they can also help create a distinct style and flow. On the other hand, you may run the risk of sounding repetitive or burying your reader in too much detail or information at one time. All in all, don’t overuse apposition in your work.

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.

How Well do you Know Appositives? Take This Quick Quiz

Appositive Question #1

Which statement is NOT true about appositives?
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is B. Appositives are usually nouns or noun phrases.

Appositive Question #2

Identify the appositive in this sentence. Nina, my sister, is beautiful.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is B. "My sister" is defining or describing who Nina is.

Appositive Question #3

Identify the appositive in this sentence. I haven't been to the water park, but I'll go soon.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is D. This sentence does not have an appositive phrase.

Appositive Question #4

Non-restrictive appositives are essential for giving a sentence meaning.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is FALSE. Non-restrictive appositives don't contribute to the sentence's meaning.

Appositive Question #4

Identify the appositive type in this sentence. I would love a red Corvette, a sports car.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is B. The additional information, "a sports car," is not essential.

Appositive Question #6

Always use commas or parentheses to offset restrictive appositives.
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

The answer is FALSE. Only use commas or parentheses with non-restrictive appositives.

Read More: Run-on Sentence: What is it and how to fix it

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Krista Grace Morris

Krista heads up Marketing and Content Creation here at INK. From Linguistics and History to puns and memes, she's interested in the systems we create to share our ideas with each other.

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