Essential versus Nonessential Appositives
An APPOSITIVE is a noun that explains, or renames another noun or pronoun before it (see AppositiveOpens in new window).
Sometimes the appositives are not essential to the meaning of the nouns they refer to; other times they give essential information for identifying the nouns they refer to.
Essential and Nonessential appositives are always distinguishable by their punctuation. Essential appositives are never set off with commas because they give essential information. Nonessential appositives are always set off with commas.
If you remove an essential appositive from a statement, it destroys the clear meaning of the statement. Consequently, the reader may not know what the statement is about.
Therefore, essential appositive should always be fixed in than to be deleted. We don’t use commas to set off an appositive if it is essential to the meaning of a sentence.
The appositive in the following sentence is an essential appositive:
- The engineer Prince Adu has bought BMW.
Prince Adu is an essential appositive because it has not been set off by commas. Removing Prince Adu from the structure blurs its clear meaning.
Survey also the following examples of essential appositives.
- Your classmate Liam has an interesting accent.
- My friend Maurice invited me to visit his home in Santiago.
- The African language Xhosa has many click sounds.
In the above sentences, the appositives Liam, Maurice, and Xhosa are not set off with commas because the names restrict which classmate, friend, or language is being referred to (not just any classmate, but your classmate Liam; not just any friend, but my friend Maurice; not just any African language, but the Xhosa language).
Appositives that provide an alternate name for clarification purposes are not essential to the meaning of the nouns they refer to. For example, survey the sentence below.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II.
The bolded phrase in the example above is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Removing a nonessential appositive from a statement does not destroy the clear meaning of the statement. For example, if we lift out the appositive from the sentence above, we will still have the clear meaning of the statement:
- Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II.
This statement without the nonessential appositive still maintains its clear meaning. This is is because nonessential appositives do not restrict the meaning of their referent, and that is the reason they are set off with commas (as the first example illustrate).
The Real Difference between Essential and Non-essential Appositives
If you write
in the first sentence, the use of the essential appositive James (that is, without commas) means that the speaker has more than one son among whom he is referring to the one who is called James.
Nevertheless, the use of the non-essential appositive James (in the second sentence) (with commas) signifies the fact that the speaker has only one son called James. For this reason, you should be very careful to appositives in writing.