Blog The Writing Process What Is an Appositive Phrase? Learn How to Use Appositives in Your Writing

What Is an Appositive Phrase? Learn How to Use Appositives in Your Writing

Allison Bressmer

Allison Bressmer

Professor and Freelance Writer

Published Nov 22, 2021

What is an appositive phrase?

Contents:
  1. What Is an Appositive?
  2. Is an Appositive a Noun?
  3. What Is an Appositive Phrase?
  4. What Are the Two Types of Appositive Phrases?
  5. How Do You Punctuate Appositives and Appositive Phrases?
  6. Why Do Writers Use Appositives?

What Is an Appositive?

Do you know what an appositive is?

Appositives are nouns or noun phrases that work with other nouns or pronouns.

You could say all of those nouns have a positive working relationship.

I’m sorry.

Is an Appositive a Noun?

Yes! As a quick reminder, a noun is a word that refers to a person, place, idea, or thing.

Appositives are nouns that rename or add further identifying information to other nouns or pronouns.

An appositive noun appears next to (a.k.a. in apposition to) the noun or pronoun it renames or further describes.

For example, in the sentence below, the noun Allison Bressmer (that’s me!) is the appositive:

  • This article’s author, Allison Bressmer, should not pursue a career in comedy.

The appositive noun Allison Bressmer gives more information about the noun author. Now, the reader knows who specifically the author is.

Example of an appositive

In the next example, the noun Allison (me again) is the appositive:

  • She, Allison, needs to keep her day job.

The appositive noun Allison provides further information about, or renames, the pronoun she.

Okay. I think I’ve punished myself quite enough. I promise; no more jokes.

What Is an Appositive Phrase?

An appositive phrase is a type of noun phrase.

A phrase is a group of words that form one unit of meaning.

For example, the prepositional phrase “to the store” in the sentence “I went to the store” includes three words that work together. They create one meaning or purpose: they tell you where I went.

Taken alone, “to” and “the” and “store” wouldn’t tell you much, but together, they have meaning.

Definition of a phrase

A noun phrase is simply a group of words that behaves as nouns do: they represent people, places, things, or ideas

For example, “dog” is a noun. “The white dog” is a noun phrase, a group of words that represents an animal with a little more description that the noun by itself.

An appositive phrase is a noun phrase that renames or further describes another noun or pronoun, just like an appositive.

While an appositive consists of only one word (one noun, to be precise), an appositive phrase has more than one word: the noun, plus its modifiers.

For example, in this sentence, the appositive noun phrase is the blue Honda:

  • Jack’s new car, the blue Honda, is a great family vehicle.

In that appositive phrase, Honda is the noun (representing a thing), and the and blue are its modifiers. The three words work together as one unit of meaning, as phrases do.

Example of an appositive phrase

What Are the Two Types of Appositive Phrases?

There are two categories of appositive phrases: non-essential and essential (some use the terms non-restrictive and restrictive).

Since non-essential is the more commonly used of the two, we’ll start with that category.

The two types of appositive phrases

What Are Non-Essential Appositives?

A non-essential appositive is not, well, essential—necessary—to the reader’s understanding of the sentence.

If the appositive phrase is removed from the sentence, the sentence will still have the required subject, verb, and complete thought—the reader will still know what’s going on.

Definition of a non-essential appositive

The non-essential appositive phrase provides extra, but not required, information.

Think of it like this: to make a cup of tea, you need boiling water and a tea bag (to those who use more sophisticated tea dispensers, I apologize).

Those are the requirements. You can add milk, sugar, honey, lemon, cinnamon, olives (you never know—I don’t judge), but those additions are not what make the tea, tea.

Milk, sugar, and the like are to tea what appositives are to sentences.

Whether flavorful or grammatical, they are accessories: they may make the original better, but the original can exist intact without them.

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What Are Some Examples of Non-Essential Appositives in a Sentence?

In each of the examples, the appositive noun or appositive noun phrase is in parentheses.

  • My dearest friend, (Sue), is coming to visit!
  • Hiking, (my favorite pastime), is good for the body and soul.
  • Pat Smith, (a professor of history), is giving a lecture tonight.
  • The bride was stunning in her gown, (a flowing Vera Wang).
  • (A total slob), my roommate left his dirty clothes piled on our couch.

Now, read each of those sentences again, but leave the appositive out.

Did you see what happened? The sentence survived! It still makes sense. The appositive is not essential to that sentence’s existence.

Example of a non-essential appositive

Take one more look at those examples and observe the placement of the appositive in relation to the noun it is further describing.

See how the placement varies? Appositives appear next to (in apposition to) the nouns or pronouns they rename or further identify, but “next to” can mean before or after.

What Are Essential Appositives?

If non-essential appositives are the milk and sugar of tea service, think of an essential appositive as the tea bag itself.

If you ask me for a cup of tea and I give you a cup of hot water, you will not have tea and you will probably be confused.

To follow through with the sentence analogy from our discussion of non-essential appositives, you may still have a subject and verb, but you won’t have a clear, complete thought.

What Are Some Essential Appositive and Appositive Phrase Examples?

We’re going to take an inside-out approach to understanding essential appositives.

Read these sentences; they are each missing essential appositives or appositive phrases.

As you read, observe what information is missing? What do we need to turn our boiling water into tea?

  • The former US President is still admired by many.
  • The author writes hilarious accounts of his life experiences.
  • Shakespeare’s famous play is still being reimagined today.

While none of the examples are sentence fragments, they lack something.

In order for the reader to fully understand each sentence’s meaning, these questions need answers:

  • Which former US President?
  • What author?
  • Which of Shakespeare’s plays?

The importance of appositive phrases

The further-identifying-information found in the missing essential appositives is what will make the meaning of each sentence complete.

  • Former US President Abraham Lincoln is still admired by many.
  • Author David Sedaris writes hilarious accounts of his life experiences.
  • Shakespeare’s famous play Macbeth is still being reimagined today.

How Do You Punctuate Appositives and Appositive Phrases?

Punctuation of appositives

Not all appositives require punctuation. For the ones that do, that punctuation takes the form of a comma or a pair of commas.

To determine if and how many commas you need to punctuate an appositive properly, you have to address two areas of consideration.

The good news is that you are familiar with each of them by now.

Is the Appositive Essential or Non-Essential?

Essential

When the appositive is essential, you don’t need to include any punctuation.

If you were particularly observant, you might have noticed that none of the examples of sentences with essential appositives included commas before, after, or around the appositives.

If you didn’t notice, you’ve got another chance with these examples:

  • Alfred Hitchock’s groundbreaking movie Psycho generated tremendous audience reactions.
  • Film director Martin Scorcese has only won the Oscar for one of his films.
  • I think you should invite your friend Marcus.

Non-Essential

If the appositive is non-essential, then it will need a comma or two, and that’s where the next area of consideration comes into play.

Where Does the Appositive Appear?

Just as appositive can appear before or after its respective noun or pronoun, it can also appear in different parts of a sentence.

At the Beginning of the Sentence

If the appositive appears at the beginning of the sentence, before the noun it is further identifying, put a comma after it:

  • A total slob, my roommate left his dirty clothes piled on our couch!
  • A talented defensive player, Bobby didn’t let anyone near his goal.
  • The City that Never Sleeps, New York is a great place to visit.

In the Middle of the Sentence

If the appositive appears in the middle of the sentence, after the noun it modifies, surround it with commas. In this placement, the appositive “interrupts” the sentence.

  • Pizza, one of New York’s famous delicacies, is my favorite food.
  • Stephen King, author of over 60 novels, is a prolific writer.
  • The opening sequence of the movie, the robbery scene, is my favorite part.

At the End of the Sentence

  • We had a wonderful dining experience at Patsy’s, a famous Italian restaurant.
  • My first pet was Taffy, an adorable little dog with white and brown fur.
  • I went golfing with Jimmy, my youngest brother.

Why Do Writers Use Appositives?

Appositives are bonus information. They provide “extra.” Sometimes that extra is essential, but sometimes it’s not. So why use non-essential appositives?

Like any other grammatical construction, appositives can add variety to your sentence structure.

Good writers avoid falling into dull, repetitive sentence patterns by changing up the structure of their sentences.

ProWritingAid’s Sentence Structure Report can help you with your sentence structure variety.

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You’ll see how many of each type of sentence starters you’ve used so you can make sure you’re not repeating them too frequently.

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An appositive or appositive phrase can also enhance specificity, add clarity, and provide useful explanatory information.

And in general, appositives just provide a positive writing experience.

Sorry.


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Allison Bressmer

Allison Bressmer

Professor and Freelance Writer

Allison Bressmer is a professor of freshman composition and critical reading at a community college and a freelance writer. If she isn’t writing or teaching, you’ll likely find her reading a book or listening to a podcast while happily sipping a semi-sweet iced tea or happy-houring with friends. She lives in New York with her family. Connect at linkedin.com/in/allisonbressmer

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