I. What is an Appositive?
Appositives are nouns or noun phrases that follow or come before a noun, and give more information about it.
The puppy, a golden retriever, is my newest pet.
“a golden retriever” is an appositive to “The puppy.” The word appositive is derived from the Latin phrases ad and positio meaning “near” and “placement.”
II. Examples of Appositive
A two-year-old rambunctious puppy, Brady ripped up a pillow while I was away for a moment in the kitchen.
The appositive “A two-year-old rambunctious puppy” precedes the noun “Brady.”
Angry at Brady, I began yelling but stopped when I looked at him, a sweet little puppy unaware of his wrongdoing and still not quite housetrained.
Here the appositive is the noun phrase “a sweet little puppy unaware of his wrongdoing and still not quite housetrained.“
As is shown in these two examples, appositives can be simple or complex and can appear in any part of the sentence.
III. Types of Appositive
Restrictive appositives are considered absolutely necessary in understanding the primary noun presented. Oftentimes, restrictive appositives are not separated by commas but connected to the primary noun. Here are a few examples of restrictive appositives:
My friend Evan James loves video games.
Without the appositive including Evan’s name, we have no idea just who this friend is. Because this appositive is necessary for full understanding of the sentence, it is restrictive.
Mrs. Jacobs’ class, Honors Biology, is so hard!
Because Mrs. Jacobs may teach a variety of classes, “Honors Biology” is considered a restrictive appositive.
Non-restrictive appositives, on the other hand, provide additional information that is not necessary for understanding. Because it is unnecessary information, non-restrictive appositives are typically separated from the primary noun by commas.
I bought a new skirt, a short skirt with a sunflower pattern.
Although the appositive describes the skirt further, it is not necessary for basic understanding of the sentence.
Theresa is from Tennessee, the Volunteer State.
“The Volunteer State” is a nickname for Tennessee. While interesting, it is not necessary for understanding of where Theresa is from.
IV. The Importance of Appositive
Appositives are positively useful in that they explain and further identify certain nouns. They allow writers and speakers to move from the general to the specific or vice versa. Because speech and writing are complicated and nuanced, appositives are common and simple ways of adding more information in the midst of a sentence or phrase.
V. Examples of Appositive in Literature
[Mitchell] was partial to the older establishments on Monroe Street, restaurants like the Grecian Gardens are Hellas Café, where his parents had taken him and his brothers as children for big family occasions… The men gave their hats to a girl, usually the owner’s daughter, who stacked them neatly in the coatroom.
In this example from The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, the use of appositives shows Mitchell is familiar with these older restaurants, as he knows their specific names and is familiar with how the people working and running the restaurants are usually family members.
But the moment passed and was followed by an urge, a need, a passionate yearning to share the warmth with the one person left for him to love.
In this excerpt from Lois Lowry’s The Giver, “an urge” is further described in order to emphasize just how strong it is.
VI. Examples of Appositive in Pop Culture
Appositives allow speakers to elaborate and dramatize, singers to describe and embellish, and characters to speak realistically and with detail.
Host of Cosmos, astrophysicist and cosmologist, Neil Degrasse Tyson uses appositives to dramatize his inspiring speech:
The most astounding fact, the most astounding fact is the knowledge, that the atoms comprise life on earth; the atoms that pick up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars, the high mass ones among them, went unstable in their later years. They collapsed and then exploded, scattering their enriched guts, across the galaxy, guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas clouds, that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems stars with orbiting planets and those planets now have ingredients for life itself. So that when I look up at the night sky, and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us.
Justin Timberlake uses the appositive in “Mirrors” for rhythm and elaboration:
It’s like you’re my mirror,
My mirror staring back at me,
I couldn’t get any bigger
With anyone else beside of me
And now it’s clear as this promise
That we’re making, two reflections into one,
Timberlake emphasizes the title and focus of his song by repeating “my mirror staring back at me” and explains that “the promise” is “two reflections into one,” meaning love and marriage. His significant other is “something,” meaning “an original” or special and unique person.
VII. Related Terms
Like appositives, explanatory phrases provide a sentence with more information or an explanation for why something has happened. Whereas appositives are specifically noun phrases that describe another noun, explanatory phrases can be any type of grammar construction.
Here is an example of an appositive versus an explanatory phrase:
Sentence with an Appositive:
On Monday, a dreary day, I grabbed my umbrella before leaving the house.
Sentence with an Explanatory Phrase:
On Monday, because I thought it might rain, I grabbed my umbrella before leaving the house.
This explanation explains and adds information in a way that is more complicated than noun-for-noun description.
Similar to appositives, adjective phrases add information to a noun phrase. The only difference is adjective phrases begin with adjectives, whereas appositives are noun phrases.
Here is an example of an appositive versus an adjective phrase:
Sentence with an Appositive:
Jerry, a star student, volunteered to help the teacher after class.
Sentence with an Adjective Phrase:
Jerry, ever-helpful and full of initiative, volunteered to help the teacher after class.
As can be seen from these examples, both appositives and adjective phrases provide important information about Jerry. They simply take on slightly different forms.
VIII. In Closing
Appositives provide sentences with variety and more information, whether necessary in the form of the restrictive appositive, or additional in the form of the non-restrictive appositive. They serve to elaborate and provide interesting detail to otherwise simple noun phrases.