Appositives: What Are They and How Should You Use Them? Image

In writing, it’s sometimes helpful to include several pieces of information in one sentence. After all, if every fact had to have its own short, simple sentence, your writing would lack variety and make for a pretty dull reading experience.

That’s why in many complex sentences, you’ll often find appositives—little added bits of information (like this one!)—tucked in between commas, em dashes, or parentheses.

Much like modifiers, appositives and appositive phrases provide additional details about the subject at hand. Read on for more on how to properly use and format appositives in your writing.

What Is an Appositive?

An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that follows another noun or noun phrase in apposition to it (not opposition!)

In other words, the appositive provides extra information about the noun preceding it.

Appose originated in Middle French, and means to place something “in proximity to or juxtaposition with” something else.

In grammar, words are placed “in apposition to” other words or phrases when they provide another layer of details.

Examples of Appositives

Below are several examples of appositives.

Example 1:

Jourdan, my oldest friend, came over for dinner last night.

In the sentence above, the main sentence is “Jourdan came over for dinner last night.” The appositive “my oldest friend” provides more specific information about Jourdan, the proper noun and subject of the sentence.

Example 2:

Rome, the capital city of Italy, is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world.

The core sentence above is “Rome is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world.” The appositive “capital city of Italy” simply tells us more information about Rome.

Example 3:

Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, took office in 2008.

“The first black U.S. president” provides additional information about Barack Obama.

Appositives can also be set apart by parentheses or em dashes when they come at the end of a sentence.

Example 4:

My sister’s favorite singer is Mick Jagger (lead singer of the Rolling Stones).

Do Appositives Need Commas?

You’ll often find appositives set apart by commas, though that’s not always the case. If the appositive is restrictive (in other words, it delivers essential information), then commas are not necessary.

Example 5:

My friend Emily owes me $20.

In this case, “Emily” is essential information, since we can assume that the speaker has more than one friend, but Emily is the one that owes him or her money.

Can an Appositive Be a Prepositional Phrase?

Prepositional phrases also add additional information, but in relation to other words or elements (for example, “the book is on the table.”)

Prepositional phrases are distinct from appositives, though they might sometimes overlap.

For example:

My cousin, who lives in a house by the lake, is getting married next month.

Technically, both “in a house” and “by the lake” are prepositional phrases, but they’re part of an appositive, since it discloses more information about the cousin who is getting married.

How to Be More Descriptive

Appositives are just one way to add more information to your prose. If you’re looking just the right words to describe characters or the people in your life, check out this list of negative personality adjectives.

And when being descriptive, remember: it’s often better to show, not tell. Using the right adjectives, modifiers, and appositives can help you do just that.

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