Appositive | Examples, Definition & Punctuation

An appositive (also called an appositive noun or appositive phrase) is a noun phrase that follows another noun phrase and provides additional information about it. The two words or phrases are described as being in apposition.

The usual structure is the antecedent (a noun phrase that the appositive will give more information about) followed by the appositive itself, either set off by commas or, if it’s essential to the meaning of the sentence, without any additional punctuation.

Examples: Appositives
My best friend, a doctor, is coming to town.

The capital of France, Paris, is a popular destination for tourists from across the world.

The author Jane Austen is best known for her second novel, Pride and Prejudice.

Commas with appositives

There are two kinds of appositives that give different kinds of information and are punctuated differently:

  • A nonrestrictive appositive gives information that’s not needed to identify the preceding noun phrase. It’s separated from the surrounding text with commas.
  • A restrictive appositive gives information that’s essential to identifying the preceding noun phrase. It’s not set off with commas.
Examples: Nonrestrictive appositives Examples: Restrictive appositives
I don’t always get on with my father-in-law, Carlos. My friend Rachel is visiting this weekend.
Beethoven’s final orchestral work, the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, is among the most famous works of classical music ever composed. Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow quickly became a bestseller.
Three nations, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, form the Benelux region. The companies Samsung and Hyundai are major South Korean success stories.

Nonrestrictive appositive: Set off with commas

A nonrestrictive appositive (or nonessential appositive) adds “bonus” information. It may be useful and interesting, but the sentence would still make sense and express the same point without it. The antecedent is already identifiable without the appositive:

  • Jane’s car, a red Porsche, was impounded last week.
  • Jane’s car was impounded last week.

The car’s make and color weren’t needed to identify it, since we already know it’s Jane’s car and have no reason to think she has more than one (if she did, the sentence would say something like “one of Jane’s cars” or “Jane’s new car”).

Remember that a nonrestrictive appositive must be separated from the surrounding text, normally with commas. Alternatively, you can use em dashes, parentheses, or (if it appears at the end of the sentence) a colon.

  • Jane’s car a red Porsche was impounded last week.
  • Jane’s car, a red Porsche, was impounded last week.
  • Jane’s cara red Porschewas impounded last week.
  • Jane’s car (a red Porsche) was impounded last week.
  • Last week, the police impounded Jane’s car: a red Porsche.

Restrictive appositive: No commas

A restrictive appositive (or essential appositive) adds information that is necessary to identify its antecedent. This kind of appositive can’t be removed without making the sentence unclear or significantly changing its meaning:

  • The popular search engine Google receives more than 8.5 billion searches a day.
  • The popular search engine receives more than 8.5 billion searches a day.

The second sentence doesn’t tell us what is being referred to; there are many services that fit the description “popular search engine.” You would only use this phrasing if Google had already been mentioned in the previous sentence. Without that context, it’s too vague.

Because this type of appositive is considered essential to the meaning of the sentence, it should not be set off by commas or other punctuation.

  • The popular search engineGooglereceives more than 8.5 billion searches a day.
  • The popular search engine (Google) receives more than 8.5 billion searches a day.
  • The popular search engine, Google, receives more than 8.5 billion searches a day.
  • The popular search engine Google receives more than 8.5 billion searches a day.
Note
There are also appositives that could be treated as either nonrestrictive or restrictive (with or without commas) depending on the intended meaning.

For example, “my brother John” would be used by someone who had multiple brothers and wanted to identify a specific one; “my brother, John” would be used by someone with only one brother.

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Appositives that come before their antecedents

An appositive normally appears directly after its antecedent, but occasionally they are in the opposite order, with the appositive coming first. This is only the case with nonrestrictive appositives, and a comma always separates the appositive and antecedent in these cases.

Examples: Appositive before the antecedent
A thing of beauty, this necklace is the perfect gift for your partner.

A major boost to economies, industrialization also represented a threat to traditional manufacturers.

The protagonist of the novel, Raskolnikov is nevertheless far from admirable.

Appositives for emphasis

As well as providing extra information, appositives can also be used for emphasis. Only nonrestrictive appositives (those separated from the surrounding sentence with commas or other punctuation) are used in this way.

This kind of appositive often reads similarly to its antecedent, just adding one or two additional words for emphasis (think of Shakespeare’s famous “we few, we happy few” line). Or it may add information that is already obvious but intended to give emotional weight to the statement.

Examples: Appositives for emphasis
He was suddenly overtaken by joy, burning joy, that seemed to carry him forward.

I can’t believe that you, my own daughter, would say that to me!

Another way to use an appositive for emphasis is by saving important information for the end of the sentence, separating it from the antecedent with a colon or em dash. In such uses, the antecedent is not necessarily right before the appositive.

Example: Appositive for emphasis at the end of a sentence
The dish is characterized by its main ingredient: fresh, locally sourced seafood.

A new global power was on the rise: the British Empire.

Introducing an appositive

While appositives commonly appear directly after their antecedents without any introduction, it’s also possible to use a standard phrases or abbreviation to introduce an appositive.

This is useful when it’s necessary to clarify what the appositive is there for: Does it provide examples (“for example,” “such as,” “e.g.”)? Is it another name for the same thing or a more specific description of it (“that is,” “namely,” “in other words,” “i.e.”)?

Examples: Introducing an appositive
Derrick’s house—that is, the one next door to ours—is in need of some maintenance.

Root vegetables (for example, carrots and onions) are a big part of many cuisines.

Possessive pronouns (e.g., “mine”) are not quite the same as possessive determiners such as “my.”

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Frequently asked questions

What is an appositive (phrase)?

An appositive, also called an appositive phrase or appositive noun, is a noun phrase that comes after another noun phrase (called the antecedent) and provides additional information about it.

An appositive may provide essential identifying information about the antecedent, in which case it’s called a restrictive appositive and is not separated from the surrounding text by any punctuation (e.g., “the writer Djuna Barnes was …”).

The other kind of appositive is a nonrestrictive appositive, which provides extra information that is not needed to identify the antecedent and could be removed without changing the basic meaning of the sentence. It’s separated from the surrounding text with commas or other punctuation (e.g., “my hometown, Boston, is …”).

What does “appositive” mean?

“Appositive” is an adjective or noun referring to the grammatical concept of apposition. An appositive is a noun phrase that comes after another noun phrase (its antecedent) to provide extra information about it.

For example, in the sentence “my wife, Dorothy, enjoys musical theater,” “Dorothy” is the appositive, with the antecedent “my wife.”

What is an antecedent?

In grammar, the term antecedent means a word or phrase that is referred back to by another word or phrase. It’s most commonly used in the context of pronouns. Pronoun-antecedent agreement is an important concept.

For example, in the sentence “Jamie is here, and he wants to talk to you,” the pronoun “he” refers back to the antecedent “Jamie.” It “agrees” with Jamie because it’s singular (Jamie is one person), masculine (Jamie is a man), and third-person (the speaker is talking about Jamie, not directly to him).

Other types of words and phrases can also have antecedents. For example, the antecedent of an appositive is the noun phrase it is placed in apposition with, and the antecedent of a possessive determiner is the person or thing whose possession it describes.

Sources in this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Caulfield, J. (2023, July 19). Appositive | Examples, Definition & Punctuation. Scribbr. Retrieved April 9, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/nouns-and-pronouns/appositive/

Sources

Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.

Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.