Appositives & Appositive Phrases: Definition & Examples

Our language is made up many units of meaning to allow for clear communication. This lesson focuses on understanding and using one of those units: the appositive.
Review of Phrases and Clauses
Our sentences are not just a bunch of words thrown together. Those words must be divided and organized into communicable units. Otherwise, the whole purpose of language is lost. An appositive is one of those units.
Before we take a closer look at appositives, however, we need to review phrases and clauses. A phrase is a word or group of words that function as a meaningful unit within a sentence. A clause is a unit of words usually containing a subject and a verb. However, clauses do not have to be a complete sentence. In order to understand appositives and how to format them in sentences, you need to remember the functions of phrases and clauses within a sentence. So, now that we’ve reviewed those, let’s look at how appositives are used and formatted in our writing.
What Are Appositives?
In daily speech and writing, we are constantly renaming things. People and objects can have many names. For instance, I am Robert, but I can also be called a man, a teacher, a son, or a brother. All these names can refer to me in different contexts. This is true for nearly any noun.
An appositive is a phrase, usually a noun phrase, that renames another phrase or noun. A noun phrase is a group of words taking the job of a noun in a sentence. Noun phrases consist of the main noun and any modifiers. For example, ‘yellow house,’ ‘high school teacher,’ and ‘the large dog’ are all noun phrases. Here is an example of a sentence using a one word appositive to rename another noun.
My best friend, Sammy, lives in Cleveland.
The word Sammy is the appositive in that sentence, as it renames the noun phrase ‘my best friend.’ Appositives can also come in the form of phrases. Here are two more examples of sentences using an appositive phrase.
My childhood home, a yellow and blue house, is just down the road.
His fish, Gill and Phineas, need to be fed once a day.
The two appositive phrases are ‘a yellow and blue house’ and ‘Gill and Phineas.’
Punctuation Appositives
The punctuation surrounding the appositive depends on its necessity in the sentence. To determine this, you must first understand restrictive versus nonrestrictive clauses. A restrictive clause is one that is needed in the sentence because it limits the options in some way. A nonrestrictive clause is one that is not needed in the sentence and can be removed without affecting the underlying meaning. Restrictive clauses do not need to be set off by commas, but nonrestrictive ones do.
Look back at this example sentence:
My best friend, Sammy, lives in Cleveland.
The appositive is the word Sammy, which is nonrestrictive; this information is not necessary in the sentence. If you take out the word ‘Sammy,’ it is still grammatically correct and makes logical sense. Therefore, this appositive is set off by commas. Now look at an example that is restrictive.
The English author William Shakespeare wrote the famous play Romeo and Juliet.
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