An Introduction to Appositio

Appositio (Latin term for Apposition; etymologically derives from Latin: ad “near” and positio “placement”), is a grammatical syntax by which two descriptive elements—usually noun phrasesOpens in new window—are placed adjacent to one another, with one element serving the purpose of giving detailed description or definition of the other.

In the syntactic construction of appositio, the two elements are said to be in apposition. One of the the element is called the appositive, although its identification requires consideration of how the elements are placed in the construction.

For purpose of clarity, let's take a look at this example (courtesy of, wikipediaOpens in new window).

Now take a close look at the two sentences below, the phrases Alice Smith and my sister are in apposition, with the appositive identified with italics:

  • My sister, Alice Smith, likes jelly beans.
  • Alice Smith, my sister, likes jelly beans.

Appositio often results when the verbs (particularly verbs of being) in supporting clauses are eliminated to produce shorter descriptive phrases. This makes them often function as hyperbatonOpens in new window, or figures of disorder, because they can disrupt the flow of a sentence. For example, in the phrase: “My wife, a nurse by training, ...”, it is necessary to pause before the parenthetical modification “a nurse by training”.

Examples of Appositio
  • Gretchen, the cheerleader of Holy Family Girls, addressed a letter to the principal, probably on the recent incident.”
  • — Anonymous
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a great and good President, a friend of all people of goodwill, a believer in the dignity and equality of all human beings, a fighter for justice, an apostle of peace, has been snatched from our midst by the bullet of an assassin.”
  • — Justice Earl Warren, Eulogy for John F. Kennedy
  • Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest of scientists, seemed not to have mastered the physics of hair combing.”
  • — Anonymous
  • “I am elated by the knowledge that for the first time in our history a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, will be recommended to share our ticket.”
  • — Jesse Jackson, Democratic National Convention Address
Further Readings:
American Rhetoric: appositioOpens in new window
Wikipedia | appositioOpens in new window
Quintilian 8.6.40-43 ("appositum");
Gregory T. Howard | Dictionary of Rhetorical Terms.