Appositive phrases

definition and examples of appositive phrase

APPOSITIVE PHRASE is simply an appositive plus any words that modify the appositive.

As with an AppositiveOpens in new window, an Appositive Phrase usually follows the noun to identify, explain, or add to the meaning of the noun.

Tagged below is an example of a sentence containing an appositive (in italics):

  • She is going out with Richard, a guy in her exercise class.
    →The appositive is used to give information that helps identify who Richard is.

It is pertinent to surmise an Appositive Phrase is a phrase headed by an appositive, a noun that basically renames another noun or pronoun before it (→this description itself is an example of appositive phrase).

Each of the following sentences below use an appositive.

  • Jennifer, the girl from Nebraska with red hair, thinks you are cute.
  • Mom, please let me watch The Simpsons, my favorite show in the entire world, before I start my homework.
  • Ron Smith, the world’s most honest police officer, arrested his own mother for jaywalking.

An Appositive Phrase—as mentioned earlier—is a phrase that renames a nearby noun or explains it more fully. It is not hard to include appositive phrases in your own writing. Look at the step-by-step instructions below.

Step by Step Guide to Write a Sentence with an Appositive Phrase
  • Step 1: Write a sentence:
  • William Taft was the first president to own a car.
  • Step 2: identify at least one noun in your sentence, and rename it:
  • William Taft: the only person to have held both offices of president and chief justice of the United States
  • Step 3: Revise your sentence adding the appositives.
  • William Taft, the only person to have held both offices of president and chief justice of the United States, was the first president to own a car.

Climbing up the hills of appositive phrases

Appositive phrases are essentially special-purpose noun phrases. The appositive is the head noun and the rest of the appositive phrase consists of modifiers of the noun, adjectives in front of the appositive noun, and modifying prepositional phrases following the appositive noun.

The following are examples with the appositive phrases in italics and the appositive heads in bold:

  • Atolls, small coral islands, cover shallow tropical waters.
  • His car, a hulking SUV, costs a fortune to fill up and rides like a tank.
  • The police went to his address, an old hotel in Denver.

Notice that all the appositive phrases are set off from the rest of their sentences by commas: a pair of commas if the appositive phrase is in the middle of a sentence or a single comma if the appositive phrase is at the end of the sentence (as illustrated in the last example).

If the appositive phrase follows the subject noun phrase, we can move the appositive phrase to the beginning of the sentence. Appositive phrases moved out of their normal position following the noun phrase are sometimes called inverted appositives.

Following is an example of a sentence containing an appositive phrase (in italics) that can be inverted:

Normal order:

  • Emma, the only child in the class with no cavities, smiled proudly.

Inverted order:

  • The only child in the class with no cavities, Emma smiled proudly.

There is one situation in which it is normal to invert the appositive phrase: when the subject noun phrase is a pronoun. Here are two examples (appositive phrases in italics):

  • A hopeless romantic, I always want movies to have a happy ending.
  • Always a sucker for a smile, he gave in to his daughter’s request.

If we were to leave the inverted appositive phrases in their normal position following the nouns they explain, the results might or might not be grammatical, but they would certainly be odd:

  • ? I, a hopeless romantic, always want movies to have a happy ending.
  • ? He, always a sucker for a smile, gave in to his daughter’s request.

The ? at the beginning of a sentence indicates that the sentence is only marginally grammatical.

Up to this point, all the appositive phrases we have examined have been nonessential. Nonessential appositive phrases are not required to define the noun phrase they follow. In the next entry, we'll be surveying ESSENTIAL AND NONESSENTIAL APPOSITIVE PHRASESOpens in new window.