Appositives: Say What?

AppositivesAdmit it. You’ve never heard the word appositive before let alone know what it means. That’s not really true. It’s more a case of you don’t know that you know. We use appositives every day to add interest or variety to our writing, improve rhythm or help us trim wordy sentences.

What is an appositive?
Appositives are nouns, noun phrases or noun clauses that sit next to another noun to rename it or describe it in a different way. It’s typically set off by commas, dashes or brackets. For example, if you said, “The girl ran down the street,” adding an appositive could result in “The girl, who is the fastest, ran down the street.” The sentence is still complete without the appositive. Adding it, however, tells the reader more information about the particular character.

Here are some examples. The appositives are italicized.

  • Don’t leave your shoes there, or my dog, Spartacus, will chew them.
  • My best friend, Andrew, caught a whelk when he was fishing for bass.
  • Dr. Pat, the creator of the turnip brew, sold ten barrels on the first day.

When appositives need commas
Not every appositive requires a comma.

You’ll need to use one if your sentence would be clear and complete without the appositive. Put one before and one after it when the appositive supplies non-essential information.

  • Billy Brown, one of the town’s antique dealers, collects vintage clocks.

You don’t need to add commas if the appositive adds meaning to the sentence. One-word appositives don’t need commas either.

  • American author F. Scott Fitzgerald spent many years overseas. Because there are many American authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald makes the sentence meaningful so no commas are needed.
  • Bruce’s brother Steven lives in Freehold. In order to explain which of Bruce’s brothers we’re referring to, Steven becomes essential information so no commas are needed.

Where to place an appositive
An appositive can:

  • Begin a sentence: A prize-winning baker, Mrs. Zimmerman loves to makes pies, cakes and cookies.
  • Break up a sentence: Mrs. Zimmerman, a prize-winning baker, loves to make pies, cakes and cookies.
  • End a sentence: Needing donations for the church bake sale, the committee called Mrs. Zimmerman, a prize-winning baker who loves to make pies, cakes and cookies.

It’s easy to overuse appositives. All it takes is one too many and the sentence can become too long, cluttered and confusing. Use them when they can add to the character of the noun and provide more interest to the sentence.

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