What Is an Appositive?

An appositive is a noun or a noun phrase that sits next to another noun to rename it or to describe it in another way. For example:
  • The roads in Paris, the most romantic city in the world, have no stop signs.
  • (Here, the noun phrase "the most romantic city in the world" is an appositive. It sits next to the noun "Paris" to describe it.)

What Does "Appositive" Mean?

The word appositive comes from the Latin for to put near.
Appositives are usually offset with a pair of the following:

Table of Contents

  • Easy Examples of Appositives
  • Restrictive and Non-restrictive Appositives
  • Real-Life Examples of Appositives
  • Why Appositives Are Important
  • Test Time!
appositive example

Easy Examples of Appositives

In the examples below, the appositive is shaded and the noun being renamed or described in another way is in bold.

Appositives are usually offset with commas.
  • Dexter, my dog, will chew your shoes if you leave them there.
  • Lee, my Army mate, caught a whelk while fishing for bass.
  • Dr. Pat, the creator of the turnip brew, sold 8 barrels on the first day.
  • The beast, a large lion with a mane like a bonfire, was showing interest in our party.
Appositives can also be offset with parentheses (round brackets) or dashes.
  • Peter (my mate from school) won the lottery.
  • For the last decade, prices in Altona small town only 25 minutes from London – have been soaring.

Restrictive and Non-restrictive Appositives

Often an appositive will just provide bonus information that could be removed without destroying the meaning. Sometimes, however, removing an appositive will leave you with a question.
  • Peter won the lottery.
  • Dr. Pat sold 8 barrels on the first day.
Peter who? Which Dr. Pat? Eight barrels of what?

When an appositive is essential for understanding, it is called a restrictive appositive. When it's just removable bonus information, it's called a non-restrictive appositive. Non-restrictive appositives are always offset with commas, dashes or brackets. Restrictive appositives are usually offset with commas, dashes, or parentheses (round brackets) but not always.
  • My dog Dexter will chew your shoes if you leave them there.
  • My Army mate Lee caught a whelk while fishing for bass.
When a restrictive appositive is not offset with punctuation (as in the two examples above and the first example below), the structure will be [generic term-specific term], as opposed to [specific term-generic term].
  • My sister Dawn might actually be an angel.
  • (The structure is [generic term-specific term].)
  • Dawn, my sister, might actually be an angel.
  • (The structure is [specific term-generic term].)
When an appositive appears at the end of sentence, it can be introduced with a colon.
  • He demanded just one thing: loyalty.
  • (A comma or a dash would also be fine.)

Real-Life Examples of Appositives

  • It is the perpetual dread of fear, the fear of fear, that shapes the face of a brave man. (French author Georges Bernanos)
  • Lou Epstein, the oldest, shortest, and baldest of the three Epstein brothers, barely looked up from the cash register when Alfred entered the store. (extract from The Contender by Robert Lipsyte)
It is not uncommon for appositives to be introduced with terms like namely, that is, in other words, and i.e.
  • A clairvoyant is a person, commonly a woman, who has the power of seeing that which is invisible to her patron – namely, that he is a blockhead. (Author Ambrose Bierce)
  • There is but one law for all, namely, that law which governs all law, the law of our Creator, the law of humanity, justice and equitythe law of nature and of nations. (Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke)
  • (It's pretty rare, but appositives can be lined up. It's called commoratio, deliberate repetition for effect.)
  • Is it really fair for the government – i.e., the taxpayers – to provide people with cell phones? (Actor Tim Griffin)
  • (Using an introduction for an appositive (here, i.e.) is particularly useful when it might take your readers a few moments to understand why it's an appositive, namely, a term that describes the noun in another way.)
The word appositive comes from the Latin phrases ad and position meaning "near" and "placement." An appositive will nearly always be to the immediate right of the noun it is renaming or describing in another way. However, they do occasionally appear farther away.
  • Panic sprouted again, desperate fleeing panic, but there was nowhere to flee to. (extract from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams)
This happens most commonly when the appositive follows a colon.
  • He knew what his wish would be: the ability to turn stones into gold.

Why Appositives Are Important

As a native speaker, you'll naturally be good at creating restrictive appositives (i.e., ones essential for meaning), but non-restrictive ones (i.e., ones that just add bonus information) are likely to come less naturally because it's a more deliberate act to insert them. If that's true for you, it's something worth overcoming because appositives are useful for providing interesting detail mid-sentence in a way that doesn't wreck your sentence structure, and they can be good for emphasis.

So, here are two good reasons to care about appositives.

(Reason 1) Appositives are an efficient way to add information.

The great thing about an appositive is that it can be used to shoehorn interesting information or detail into your sentence without destroying the sentence structure.
  • Alexander Graham Bell, the man credited with inventing the first telephone, was declared one of the country's greatest inventors in 1936.
  • Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, became Queen of England in 1558.
  • In his 1835 paper published in the Magazine of Natural History, Edward Blyth, an acquaintance of Charles Darwin's, had documented all the leading tenets of Darwin's work 24 years ahead of Darwin's 1859 paper On the Origin of Species.
  • (Notice how the first appositive is offset with commas, but the second, which appears in the [generic-specific structure], isn't.)
If you were to remove all the shaded text (i.e., the appositives) from the examples above, the sentences would still work.

(Reason 2) An appositive can be a way of creating emphasis.

An appositive can be used to create emphasis. When used for this purpose, the appositive is often a near-repeat of the initial noun.
  • It is the perpetual dread of fear, the fear of fear, that shapes the face of a brave man.
  • This tale, this tragic tale, was full of cruel wars, savage devastation, unnecessary deaths and the inevitable search for bloody vengeance.
Another great way to create emphasis with an appositive is to put it at the end of the sentence after a colon. To do this, you will need to deliberately structure your sentence to set the stage for the appositive (like a punchline).
  • To pass this course you need just one trait: determination.
  • (When an appositive is presented in this form, it's called an emphatic appositive.)
  • Most of today's Western philosophies are based on the thoughts and teachings of the big three: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.