Are You Appositive?

Using Appositives to Clarify your Writing

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You might not be familiar with the term “Appositive,” but I guarantee you have used them in your writing. What is an appositive? An appositive is simply a noun or noun phrase (or pronoun) that elaborates on another noun or pronoun, offering further explanation or information.

For instance, look at the following example of a sentence with an appositive:

            N                                             A
Ernest Hemingway, the American novelist, is often referred to as a minimalist writer.

In the previous example, “the American novelist,” is in apposition to the noun, “Ernest Hemingway.” The second noun phrase offers more information to describe the previous noun, in this case, a proper noun.

This type of appositive phrase is called nonrestricted, therefore it is set off with commas. The appositional phrase in this sentence is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.  The phrase “the American novelist,” could be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence. It might be easier to remember that nonrestricted and restricted appositives are sometimes referred to as “essential” and “extra.” Are the words describing the noun essential (restricted) information, or is it “extra” information that you don’t really need, but it’s nice to know? If the information is essential, you don’t use commas; however, if the information is extra, you do use commas to set it off. Extra information = extra commas.

Let’s look at another example.

        N                               A
The teacher, a gray-haired taskmaster, was waiting for the students to be seated.

In this appositive example, “a gray-haired taskmaster” offers further (extra)  information to describe the noun, “the teacher.” Commas are placed around this phrase, as it is extra or nonrestrictive, meaning the appositive could be omitted without changing the intended meaning of the sentence. It’s simply extra information that tells us a little more about the teacher.

Can you pick out the appositive in the example below?

An undergraduate, Karen, raised the question about grammar.

If you said Karen, you are correct! Is Karen’s name essential information, or extra information?

If you said Karen’s name was NOT essential, you’re correct. The sentence was about a student, one of many, who had a question. Leaving out the appositive (Karen) would still convey the same thought: “An undergraduate student raised the question about grammar.

If, however, there were only one student, that would be different. If Karen were the only student, then it would read “Undergraduate Karen raised the question about grammar.”

It would be incorrect to put commas around her name because her name is essential (restricted) identifying information. You could not delete the appositive (Karen) because the sentence would not make sense. You couldn’t say, “Undergraduate raised the question about grammar.”

Appositives are a great way to clarify meaning, but if used incorrectly or with the incorrect punctuation, they can cause more problems. Read the example below, and see if you can pinpoint the problem:

I would like to dedicate this book to my father, the Pope, and my best friend. 

You could read this several ways. First, how many people would the writer like to thank? One? Two? Three? The Pope might be an appositive, but it could be another person. If it is an appositive, then the writer’s father is the Pope, and that (we hope) is not likely.  This can be easily fixed with separating the list with semi-colons:

I would like to dedicate this book to my father; the Pope; and my best friend. 

Now that the items are separated by semi-colons, “the Pope” is NOT an appositive, but simply one of three people the writer dedicates his book to.

Appositives are tricky. Just remember, extra info, extra commas. Below are more examples of appositives http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/appositives.aspx.

Correct sentences

  • A vocational counselor, Jane Smith has agreed to help me get a job. Subject: Jane Smith. Appositive: A vocational counselor (extra information; therefore the comma)
  • A vocational counselor, Jane Smith, has agreed to help me get a job. Subject: A vocational counselor. Appositive: Jane Smith (extra information; therefore the commas)
  • Jane Smith, a vocational counselor, has agreed to help me get a job. Subject: Jane Smith. Appositive: a vocational counselor (extra information; therefore the commas)
  • The vocational counselor, Jane Smith, has agreed to help me get a job. Subject: The vocational counselor. Appositive: Jane Smith (extra information; therefore the commas)
  • Vocational counselor Jane Smith has agreed to help me get a job. Subject: Jane Smith. Appositive: vocational counselor (essential information; therefore no commas)
  • My favorite writer wrote many plays. The writer, William Shakespeare, lived in Elizabethan times. Subject: The writer. Appositive: William Shakespeare (extra information; therefore the commas)
  • The writer William Shakespeare wrote many plays. Subject: The writer. Appositive: William Shakespeare (essential information; therefore no commas)
  • A fine man, my husband tolerates my grammatical tirades. Subject: My husband. Appositive: A fine man (extra information; therefore the comma)
  • My husband, a fine man, tolerates my grammatical tirades. Subject: My husband. Appositive: a fine man (extra information; therefore the commas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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