What are appositive phrases? Types of appositive phrases

Appositive phrases are nothing but naming words. Yes, appositives and appositive phrases are as easy as this statement sounds. They are used to rename nouns or pronouns.

Are we not constantly renaming things and people in our life? We are doing it all the time. My name is Ashish, but some people call me Ashu; some call me Mr. know it all (not a great name to be called by), and some call me a Teacher. That doesn’t make me four different individuals. It’s just me, one person, with different names. Similarly, we also give names to people and things.

An appositive in English is a noun or a noun phrase that renames another noun or pronoun. It sits next to the noun or pronoun it identifies/renames.

What is an appositive phrase?

An appositive phrase is a group of words that functions as a noun and renames another noun or pronoun in a sentence. It consists of an appositive (a noun) and some modifiers. Since an appositive phrase is a noun in its purest form, it is also called an appositive noun phrase.

Most of the time, it gives non-essential or restrictive information: information that is not needed to identify a noun or a pronoun. When it gives non-essential information about the noun or the pronoun it identifies, it is offset using one comma (when it comes at the end of a sentence) or two commas: one before and one after it (when it comes in the middle of a sentence. But when it gives essential/restrictive informative and identifies the noun or the pronoun with a name, it is not offset using commas.

Check the definition of an appositive by Wikipedia.

Appositive phrases examples:-

Riya, the love of my life, is going to London next week.

The love of my life is an appositive phrase that’s naming the noun it’s sitting next to Riya. Since the appositive phrase is giving nonessential information (unnecessary to identify the noun Riya as it is already an identified name: a proper name), it is offset using two commas: before and after it. When an appositive phrase gives non-essential information about a noun or a pronoun, it is called a nonessential appositive phrase or nonrestrictive appositive phrase.

We the people of this country want to get rid of corruption.

The people of this country is the appositive phrase here that’s identifying the pronoun we. It tells us who we are. Without it, the sentence gives a different meaning. And since it is essential to make the meaning of the pronoun we particular, it is not offset using commas.

Types of Appositive/Appositive phrases

An appositive or an appositive phrase is categorized into two types based upon the information it gives.

  1. Essential Appositive/Appositive phrases
  2. Non-Essential Appositive/Appositive phrases

Essential Appositive/Appositive phrases

Essential appositive/appositive phrases give information that is essential/important to identify the noun or pronoun they modifies. They are not separated from the rest of the sentence using commas, and without them, the sentence gives a different meaning.

Essential appositive phrase examples:-

  • My friends Mangesh and Archit help me with everything I do.

(Mangesh and Archit is the appositive phrase that’s identifying the noun friends and telling us who they are. Without it, we won’t know who my friends are.

  • Her roommate Sofia Charles does not talk to people politely.

(Her roommate does not talk to people politely is the core sentence. But do we know who this roommate is? We don’t. It is a common noun; Sofia Charles identifies it with a proper noun. Now we know who her roommate is: Sofia Charles (an appositive).

  • My favorite book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck got lost last night.

(The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is the appositive phrase that’s identifying the noun phrase My favorite book with a proper name.)

Nonessential Appositive/Appositive phrases

Nonessential or nonrestrictive appositive or appositive phrases give extra information that is not necessary to identify the noun or the pronoun they modify. Since they give extra information (nonessential), they are separated from the rest of the sentence using commas: before and after it. A nonessential appositive or appositive phrase can be taken out of a sentence without altering its core meaning.

Nonessential appositive phrases examples

  • Alex, his headteacher of the school, is very strict.

(His headteacher of the school is the nonessential appositive phrase that’s renaming the noun Alex with extra information. Alex is a proper noun and does not need any information to be identified. The core sentence is Alex is very strict.)

  • Last night, I got a chance to meet Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India.

(The Prime Minister of India is the nonessential appositive phrase here. It’s giving a new name to the proper noun Narendra Modi. Since it is coming at the end of the sentence, we used only one comma to offset it.)

  • Thor, the god of thunder, killed Thanos, the mad titan, in Avengers: Endgame.

(We have two essential appositive phrases in this sentence: the god of thunder and the mad titan. The first appositive phrase the god of thunder is renaming the noun thor, and the second appositive phrase the mad titan is renaming the noun Thanos.)

Check out Grammarly and Grammarmonster for more examples.

How to punctuate an appositive?

Before you punctuate an appositive or an appositive phrase, you need to know if it’s an essential or nonessential appositive. If it is an essential appositive, you don’t have to punctuate it. It goes without any interruption (a comma or commas).

My history teacher Jon Morley is getting married next week.

I am going to see my history teacher Jon Morley next week.

But if it is a nonessential/nonrestrictive appositive phrase, it is offset using commas. Now, how many commas do we need to offset an appositive or an appositive phrase in a sentence? One or two? Well, it depends on the position your appositive or appositive phrase takes in a sentence. If it comes at the end of a sentence, we need only one comma before the appositive. When it comes in the middle of a sentence, just after the noun or the pronoun it renames, it is offset using two commas: one before and one after it.

Riya, the mother of your children, is waiting for you at the station.

And when it comes at the end of a sentence, just after the noun or the pronoun it renames, we use only one comma before it.

We are heading to the station to meet Riya, the mother of your children.

We could also use a dash (Em dash) or parentheses (Round brackets) in place of commas to set a different tone of your sentence. Though, commas are the most preferred way to add additional information in a sentence.

  • Riya (the mother of your children) is waiting for you at the station.
  • We are heading to the station to meet Riya (the mother of your children).
  • Riya—the mother of your children—is waiting for you at the station.
  • We are heading to the station to meet Riya—the mother of your children.

Note: you could drop your appositive at the end of a sentence using a colon when you create suspense for that piece of information. Look at the following example:

Today, I am going to have a date with a special person: Jenny.
Today, I am going to have a date with a special person: my college crush Riya.

Did you see how deliberately we set up that appositive?! I love dropping information like this. All thanks to Mr, Colon to make it possible. Did you notice that we have two appositives in the second example:

  1. My childhood crush (Nonessential appositive)
  2. Jenny (Essential appositive)

How do you identify an appositive phrase in a sentence?

Do you still feel it’s difficult to identify an appositive phrase in a sentence? I know you don’t. Still, let’s not leave any stone unturned in mastering appositive phrases.

An appositive phrase starts with an appositive, a noun, and has one or more modifiers after it and before it. It sits next to the noun or the pronoun it renames. Let’s take some examples and understand this.

Jenny, the love of my life, is coming to see me tomorrow.

What is the appositive phrase in this example? I know you smart brains have already figured out. Still, let’s do it together.

  • Appositive phrase: the love of my life
  • Appositive in the phrase: love
  • Modifiers: the (coming before it), and of my life (prepositional phrase, coming after it)
  • Appositive type: Nonessential/nonrestrictive
  • Modifying noun: Jenny

Your friend Jacob called me yesterday.

In this example, the appositive Jacob gives essential information to identify the subject Your friend and is not offset using commas because of that.

  • Appositive: Jacob
  • Appositive type: Essential/restrictive
  • Modifying noun: your friend

So, follow this process in order to find an appositive or an appositive phrase in English:

  1. Find out all the nouns or noun phrases in your sentence/paragraph.
  2. Check if they have any nouns or noun phrases just after them.
  3. Now see if the nouns or noun phrases coming after the first noun are offset using commas or not.
  4. If they are, they are nonessential appositives or appositive phrases. And if they are not separated from the rest of the sentence using a comma or commas, they are essential.

Let’s put it to a test! Check this story out! Obviously fabricated! 😉

The party we had last night was amazing. It was organized by my best friends Ron and Jon. The idea was to unite people, our school and college friends, and relive the things we use to do back in the days. We were having a great time until something weird happened. Rohit, my school friend, started crying badly and called her girlfriend Lucy. After he hung up the call, he climbed up a wall and jumped off it. Just when his body hit the ground, I woke up and realized it was just a dream.

Step 1 Find out all the nouns in the paragraph! If two or more nouns are coming together; we will note the first one now.

The party we had last night was amazing. It was organized by my best friends Ron and Jon. The idea was to unite people, our school and college friends, and relive the things we use to do back in the days. We were having a great time until something weird happened. Rohit, my school friend, started crying badly and called her girlfriend Lucy. After he hung up the call, he climbed up a wall and jumped off it. Just when his body hit the ground, I woke up and realized it was just a dream.

Step 2. Check if these nouns have any nouns or noun phrases after them!

The party we had last night was amazing. It was organized by my best friends Ron and Jon. The idea was to unite people, our school and college friends, and relive the things we use to do back in the days. We were having a great time until something weird happened. Rohit, my school friend, started crying badly and called her girlfriend Lucy. After he hung up the call, he climbed up a wall and jumped off it. Just when his body hit the ground, I woke up and realized it was just a dream.

Nouns or noun phrases colored red are appositives. The ones that are offset using commas are nonessential appositives:

  • Our school and college friend
  • my school friend

And the ones that are coming after a noun, not offset using commas are essential appositives:

  • Ron and Jon
  • Lucy

Why should we use appositive phrases?

Appositives/appositive phrases add descriptive information about a noun or a pronoun in a sentence. It makes your writing more colorful and readable. But make sure you don’t overuse them as it might disrupt the flow of your sentences.

Watch my lesson on appositive phrases:

So, that was today’s class, smart brains. Don’t keep the knowledge to yourself; share it with others. The best way to help people is to educate them; do your part. See you in the next class!

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