Whether you know what an appositive is or not, they’ve probably given you trouble at some point while you were writing sentences. Let the Writer’s Relief proofreading team clear up the confusion surrounding appositives. Learn the definition of “appositive,” learn how to use them in your writing, and learn proper punctuation.
What is an appositive?
An appositive is a noun (or noun phrase) that provides information about another noun.
The man of the hour, Mr. Shoemaker, took his place at the podium.
At the end of the aisle I saw my mother, Ruth, coming toward me.
A big fan of country music, Sarah was excited to go to the Taylor Swift concert with her friends.
Martha, a gifted artist as well as a patron of the arts, pledged her support of the new gallery.
Her father’s underlying goal, to prevent his daughter’s marriage, was behind his decision to expose the family’s secret.
What is the proper way to punctuate appositives?
The general rule for punctuating appositives and appositive phrases is simple.
If the information is essential to the meaning of the sentence, do not use commas to set it apart:
In my apartment complex, my neighbor Sam is the most quiet.
For this example, “Sam” is essential to the meaning of the sentence. There are presumably other neighbors, and only one of them is the most quiet.
If the appositive provides extra (nonessential) information, use commas to punctuate it:
In my apartment complex, the landlord, Robby, keeps things neat, tidy, and under control.
For this example, there is only one landlord, and his actual name is nonessential.
One more example of appositives and their proper punctuation:
Mark’s wife, Christine, and his brother Kurt were the only members of his family to show up at the graduation ceremony.
From this sentence we learn that Mark has more than one brother, making identifying the brother by name a necessity, and only one wife—we hope—whose name is nonessential and therefore set off by commas. (Don’t tell his wife.)
Appositives find their way into many sentences, but you don’t have to be confused by them! Bookmark this page for easy access and stop back again! Or sign up for writing, editing, and publishing updates delivered to your inbox!
Excellent review. Thank you.
How would the reader know that Christine is Mark’s wife and not a third person? Does the punctuation need to change for clarity, or is it correct regardless of the ambiguity? I’m running into a similar issue with the following sentence: “My assistant, Michelle, and I are available at any time.” How would the reader know that my assistant and Michelle are the same person?
Great question! It would probably be clear from the context that there is only one assistant, whose name is Michelle. You could also avoid the problem entirely by restructuring the sentence: “I am available at any time, as is my assistant, Michelle.”
Good answer! However, I think all appositives behave grammatically like non-defining relative clauses and as such they should always be set off from the rest of the sentence by commas.