What is an appositive phrase?
An appositive phrase is a special kind of noun phrase that explains or identifies another noun or pronoun. There are two kinds of appositive phrases: Essential appositive phrases (also called restrictive appositive phrases) and non-essential appositive phrases (also called nonrestrictive appositive phrases).
How to find out if an appositive phrase is essential or nonessential?
There is an easy way to find out if an appositive phrase is essential or nonessential. Simply delete the appositive phrase and see if the sentence still makes sense. If it does, you are dealing with a nonessential appositive phrase. If it does not make sense anymore (is now ambiguous), you are dealing with an essential appositive phrase.
Another great way to see if an appositive phrase is essential or nonessential is to keep an eye on the punctuation.
Nonessential appositive phrases are always separated from the rest of the sentence by (a) comma(s).
There is just one comma if the nonessential appositive phrase is situated at the end of the sentence.
There is always a pair of commas if the nonessential appositive phrase is situated in the middle of the sentence.
Essential appositive phrases are never separated by commas. So if there is no comma in the sentence, you can be certain that you are dealing with an essential appositive phrase.
Essential appositive phrases
My colleague Daniel is getting married next year. (essential appositive phrase)
In this case here, the appositive phrase “Daniel” is an essential appositive phrase and can, therefore, not be deleted.
If we would delete “Daniel”, then the meaning of the sentence would be unclear (ambiguous), as the writer of the sentence (which, in this case, is me obviously) most probably has more than one colleague.
So by deleting “Daniel”, it would be completely unclear who I was even talking about.
Nonessential appositive phrases
As we have seen earlier in this article, nonessential appositive phrases are phrases that explain or identify other nouns or pronouns in a sentence.
Also, nonessential appositive phrases do so with the help of commas, or, to be more precise, with at least one comma, depending on where the appositive phrase is situated in the sentence.
Tim, the most handsome student in the class, doesn’t like to play football.
In this example, we have a nonessential appositive phrase in the middle of a sentence. In this case, nonessential appositive phrases are always set apart by two commas.
Now, if the nonessential appositive phrase figures at the end of the sentence, there is only one comma needed.
He is living in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. (note: Yes, Bern is the capital of Switzerland, not Zurich)
Nonessential appositive phrases are far more frequent than essential appositive phrases.
What is an inverted appositive phrase?
Appositive phrases generally follow a noun phrase. In this case, we are talking about appositive phrases in their normal order.
However, appositive phrases can sometimes also be placed in front of a subject noun phrase, and in this case, we are dealing with inverted appositive phrases.
Emma, the child having the most money in the class, is sitting in the front row of the classroom. (normal order)
The child having the most money in the class, Emma, is sitting in the front row of the classroom. (inverted order)
The function of appositive phrases: Renaming and/or identifying
Earlier in this article, we have seen that appositive phrases are here to give more detail about another noun or pronoun in the sentence.
You could, therefore, say that the main function of appositive phrases is to give more information about these nouns or pronouns.
But what is this supposed to mean exactly? Giving more information? What kind of information?
Generally speaking, appositive phrases either rename a noun or pronoun or they identify it. The difference between these two functions is admittedly pretty subtle.
But let’s have a try:
Eko Fresh, aka Busy Bora, is a German rapper.
I would claim that in this case, “aka Busy Bora” serves the function of renaming “Eko Fresh” rather than identifying Eko Fresh by giving additional information about his persona.
Let’s have a look at another example now, though.
His daughter, an eight-year-old kid that loves to play video games, was not happy to find out that Daddy’s gaming console suddenly stopped working.
In this case, the main function of the appositive phrase “an eight-year-old kid that loves to play video games,” is clearly to further identify the child and to give additional information about it.
Syntax of Appositive Phrases
Appositive phrases can appear almost anywhere in a sentence. However, the rule is, that they always appear immediately after the noun phrase that they are referring to.
There are subject appositives, object appositives (both direct object & indirect object appositives), subject complement appositives and even object complement appositives.
Let’s tackle a few examples:
Charlie, a small black bird, is the only bird that Emma likes. (subject appositive)
He really didn’t like the disco, a very shady and noisy place in the middle of the village. (direct object appositive)
I gave Edward, my best friend, some games to play with. (indirect object appositive)
We called him Deku, a race from “The Legend of Zelda” series. (object complement appositive)
The grant was a real godsend, a perfect gift, to be exact. (subject complement appositive)
Can appositive phrases incorporate other phrase forms?
Absolutely. Consider the following appositive phrase:
Mark, the strongest guy, got the job done immediately. In this sentence, the appositive phrase is merely consisting of a noun phrase (the strongest guy).
But in other cases, the appositive phrase, which is always a noun phrase as we have discussed earlier, can incorporate other phrases such as prepositional phrases.
Don’t believe me?
Here you go!
My brother, a school teacher at Beijing University, is now living in Shanghai.
The appositive phrase here is obviously “a school teacher at Beijing University”. Inside of this appositive phrase, however, we got another little phrase, namely “at Beijing University”. And this, Ladies and Gentleman, is a prepositional phrase.
But that’s not all, folks! We can even go further and find appositive phrases that contain two prepositional phrases
You kidding me?
No no, I certainly wouldn’t dare. Here you go:
Her husband, a super hot fitness coach in the gym down the street, is turning fifty this year.
There you have it. An appositive phrase that consists of the noun phrase (a super hot fitness coach) and two prepositional phrases! The first prepositional phrase being “in the gym” and the second one being “down the street”.
Appositive phrases: Exceptions
We have just seen that appositive phrases do not always pop up in regular word (phrase) order.
Sometimes, as seen earlier, appositive phrases can, therefore, be in inverted order where the appositive phrase precedes the actual noun phrase that it is actually referring to.
There is one special situation, where the appositive phrase always precedes the noun phrase that it actually modifies.
Let me just tell you guys, ok?
You surely want to know, right?
Ok, I will stop it.
Appositive phrases are naturally in inverted order when the subject noun phrase is actually a pronoun.
And how does that present itself?
You asked for it, here you go!
A hopeless dreamer, I always thought that I will actually become rich one day.
In this example, it would be very weird to stick to the regular order of appositive phrases, as that would give us:
I, a hopeless dreamer, always thought that I will actually become rich one day.
Well, at least in written English, that would not be an acceptable sentence. However, it does not sound THAT bad I think and I could very well imagine hearing it in some rap songs. I heard worse things, to be honest!
Appositive phrases: Example Sentences
His new MPC, a drum computer to produce beats, helped him to get through this hard time. (nonessential appositive phrase)
His dad, a former professional boxer, didn’t like the idea of him getting into sports. (nonessential appositive phrase)
The story takes place in Biel, a small town in Switzerland. (nonessential appositive phrase)
It was J. K. Rowling who wrote the novel Career of Evil. (essential appositive phrase)
Cats, probably the cutest animals ever, are known for their independent character. (nonessential appositive phrase)
Linguaholic, a website about languages, is my favorite study tool on the internet (nonessential appositive phrase)
The instrument, a very expensive guitar, needed to be repaired. (non-essential appositive phrase)
I am looking forward to Christmas, my favorite time of the year. (non-essential appositive phrase)
J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of the book “The Hobbit,” died at the age of 81. (non-essential appositive phrase)
My brother Daniel helped me with my homework. (essential appositive phrase)
The Hip Hop Crew Wu-Tang-Clan is absolutely legendary. (essential appositive phrase)
My friend David is an amazing producer. (essential appositive phrase)
Just how powerful are appositive phrases?
Appositive phrases and appositives are indeed very powerful, as they can add information to almost any noun and even pronoun in a sentence!
They can add additional information to subjects, indirect & direct objects, subject complements and even object complements.
Moreover, we have seen that appositive phrases are also a stylistic instrument that makes sentences more interesting and gives them more depth and amplitude.
So, at this point, I would simply like to say:
More power to appositive phrases!
Frequently asked questions about Appositive Phrases
What is the purpose of an appositive phrase?
An appositive phrase is seeking to give more information about a certain noun. It is also used as a stylistic device to contribute to sentence variety.
What is an appositive?
The head of an appositive phrase, which is typically a noun, is what you call an appositive. An appositive can also be a pronoun instead of a noun.
Are appositives always nouns?
Appositives can also be pronouns.
Are appositive phrases noun phrases?
Appositive phrases are special noun phrases. Their head, the so-called appositive, is usually a noun. The head can also be a pronoun, though.
What other constituents than appositive nouns can appositive phrases include?
Appositive phrases often also include adjectives that further modify the noun. Also, prepositional phrases sometimes follow the appositive noun.
Are appositive phrases always introduced by a comma?
Yes, appositive phrases are always introduced by a comma. If they stand in the middle of a sentence, then there are always two commas, one to introduce the appositive phrase and one to close it. If the appositive phrase is placed at the end of the sentence, then there is just one comma, which is marking the beginning of the appositive phrase.
What types of appositive phrases are there?
There are two types of appositive phrases: nonessential appositive phrases and essential appositive phrases.
Are appositive phrases essential to capture the full meaning of sentences?
It depends on the type of appositive phrase. Essential appositive phrases, as the name suggests, are absolutely crucial for the understanding of the sentence. Nonessential appositive phrases, on the other hand, add additional information to a noun or pronoun that is not regarded as crucial for the understanding of the sentence. When deleted, the sentence, therefore, still makes sense. This is why nonessential appositive phrases are not regarded as absolutely necessary as far as the understanding of a sentence goes.
What is the difference between a nonessential appositive phrase and an essential appositive phrase?
A nonessential appositive phrase is a phrase that gives additional information about a noun phrase that is not absolutely necessary. So, when we delete a nonessential appositive phrase, we still have a grammatical sentence that makes sense. Essential appositive phrases are phrases that give critical information about noun phrases; these kinds of appositive phrases can not be deleted because they contribute essential information that is needed to establish the actual meaning of the sentence.
What are nonrestrictive appositive phrases?
Nonrestrictive appositive phrases are the same as nonessential appositive phrases, that is, appositive phrases that can be deleted without altering the basic meaning of the sentence.
What are restrictive appositive phrases?
Restrictive appositive phrases are the same as essential appositive phrases, that is, appositive phrases that add important information to the noun (noun phrase) they are modifying. Restrictive appositive phrases can not simply be deleted, as doing so results in a change of meaning of the sentence.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.