Phrases

Appositives: Something More for Your Money

An appositive is a noun or a pronoun that renames another noun or pronoun. Appositives are placed directly after the noun or pronoun they identify. For example:

  • Bob's car, a wreck, died a grisly death by the side of the interstate.
  • The appositive “a wreck” renames the noun, “car.”
  • Spot, a cat, should understand my moods.
  • The appositive “a cat” renames the noun, “Spot.”
  • She, my sister, is always late.
  • The appositive “my sister” renames the pronoun “she.”

Some appositives are essential to the meaning of the sentence; others are not. Be sure to use commas carefully to establish meaning with essential and nonessential appositives. Otherwise your sentences will not make sense, as these examples show:

You Could Look It Up

An appositive is a noun or pronoun that renames another noun or pronoun.

Confusing: Do you know my friend Bill?

Is Bill the friend or is the speaker talking to Bill?

Clear: Do you know my friend, Bill?

Appositive Phrases

Appositive phrases are nouns or pronouns with modifiers. Appositive phrases provide additional information and description to the sentence. As with solitary appositives, appositive phrases are placed near the noun or pronoun they describe. For example:

  • Columbia University, the second-largest landowner in New York City (after the Catholic Church), is part of the Ivy League.
  • David Prowse, the guy in the Darth Vader suit in the Star Wars movies, did not find out that his lines were going to be dubbed over by James Earl Jones until he saw the screening of the movie.

Appositives are great stylistic devices because they allow you to eliminate unnecessary words and put more information in one sentence. They can also help you …

You Could Look It Up

Appositive phrases are nouns or pronouns with modifiers. In grammar lingo, nonessential appositives are called “nonrestrictive.”

  • Create more graceful sentences.
  • Eliminate repetition.
  • Create a beat or rhythm in your writing.
  • Make your writing more interesting.

Here's an example:

Two sentences: Phineas T. Barnum was a great American showman. Barnum was near death in 1891 when a New York newspaper asked if he'd like to have his obituary published while he could still read it.

One sentence: Phineas T. Barnum, a great American showman, was near death in 1891 when a New York newspaper asked if he'd like to have his obituary published while he could still read it.

The Moment of Truth

Danger, Will Robinson

Don't set off essential appositives with commas.

Take My Word for It

Appositives, as with other parts of a sentence, can be compound. To create a compound appositive, connect the appositives with a correlative conjunction: and, but, or, for, so, nor, and yet.

As with appositives, appositive phrases come in two varieties: essential and nonessential. Don't set off essential appositives with commas, but be sure to set off nonessential appositives with commas.

Essential appositive: The famous British mystery writer Agatha Christie disappeared in 1924 and was missing for 10 days.

Nonessential appositive: Agatha Christie, the famous British mystery writer, disappeared in 1924 and was missing for 10 days.

One of the most common writing errors concerns misuse of commas with appositives and appositive phrases. Writers sometimes set off essential appositives with commas, but neglect those poor nonessential ones. You would never do that, would you? To make sure you're not guilty of that comma abuse, let's take a minute to practice, shall we? Add commas as needed to each of the following sentences.

  1. Isadora Duncan a great American dancer of the early twentieth century has become almost as famous for her death as her dancing.
  2. John Styth Pemberton an Atlanta pharmacist created the original Coca-Cola in 1886.
  3. Richard Nixon is the only American president who was forced to resign his office.
  4. King Louis XIV of France a ballet dancer from the time he was a teenager established the Royal Ballet Company.
  5. Robert Benchley the American humorist and critic was a member of the Algonquin table of noted wits.
  6. Nellie Melba a famous Australian soprano of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century gave her name to a snack food called “melba toast.”
  7. The centaur a mythological creature is said to feast on raw flesh and prodigious amounts of liquor.
  8. Alexander the Great died of a fever.
  9. Ferrets a domesticated variety of polecats were first tamed in 1500 b.c.e. by the Egyptians.
  10. Some people consider the number 13 unlucky.

Answers

  1. Isadora Duncan, a great American dancer of the early twentieth century, has become almost as famous for her death as her dancing.
  2. John Styth Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist, created the original Coca-Cola in 1886.
  3. No punctuation change needed.
  4. King Louis XIV of France, a ballet dancer from the time he was a teenager, established the Royal Ballet Company.
  5. Robert Benchley, the American humorist and critic, was a member of the Algonquin table of noted wits.
  6. Nellie Melba, a famous Australian soprano of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, gave her name to a snack food called “melba toast.”
  7. The centaur, a mythological creature, is said to feast on raw flesh and prodigious amounts of liquor.
  8. No punctuation change needed.
  9. Ferrets, a domesticated variety of polecats, were first tamed in 1500 b.c.e. by the Egyptians.
  10. No punctuation change needed.
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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