Apposition in Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

The slogan The beer that made Milwaukee famous stands in apposition to Schlitz.

Apposition is the placement side-by-side of two coordinate elements (usually noun phrases), the second of which serves to identify or rename the first. Adjective: appositional.

In his study of Apposition in Contemporary English (1992), Charles F. Meyer observes that the "relation of apposition is realized by a variety of syntactic forms, noun phrases predominantly but other syntactic forms as well. Although these forms can have a full range of syntactic functions, they most commonly have two: subject and object" (p. 10). 


From the Latin, "to put near"
Examples and Observations:

  • "Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves, 1934)
  • "The sidewalk just outside the Casino was strewn with discarded tickets, the chaff of wasted hope."
    (Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn. Doubleday, 1999)"
  • Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
    grew lean while he assailed the seasons."
    (E.A. Robinson, "Miniver Cheevy")
  • "The undistinguished example that fronts the Duke of Wellington pub is serviced by the pigeon man, an elderly stooped figure entirely in brown: from his flat cap, through his greasy raincoat, to his worn shoes, he is the color of Daddies Own sauce scraped from a formica table."
    (Iain Sinclair, Lights Out for the Territory. Granta Books, 1997)
  • "This was not Aunt Dahlia, my good and kindly aunt, but my Aunt Agatha, the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth."
    (P.G. Wodehouse)
  • "This is a valley of ashes--a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men, who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air."
    (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925)
  • "It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster--the period of soya beans and Basic English--and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendors of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language, which now with a full stomach I find distasteful."
    (Evelyn Waugh in 1959 on his wartime novel Brideshead Revisited)
  • "The sentence--the dread sentence of death--was the last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears."
    (Edgar Allan Poe, "The Pit and the Pendulum," 1842)
  • "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins."
    (Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita)

Syntactic Characteristics of Apposition

"Syntactically, apposition is most commonly a relation between two juxtaposed noun phrases having a syntactic function (such as direct object) promoting end-weight.

"Although units in apposition can have a variety of different syntactic forms, the majority of appositions in the corpora (66 percent) consisted of units that were noun phrases.

(1) Desegregation is beginning in two more important Southern cities--Dallas and Atlanta. (Brown B09 850-860)

Because appositions are syntactically heavy constructions, most (65 percent) had functions that promote end-weight, most commonly direct object (example 2) or object of preposition (example 3).

(2) A plug and a tube with holes in its cylindrical walls divided the chamber above the porous plug into two parts. This arrangement had the purpose to prevent heated gas to reach the thermocouple by natural convection. (Brown J02 900-30)
(3) The heart is suspended in a special portion of the coelom, the pericardium, whose walls are supported by cartilage. (SEU W.9.7.91-1)

" . . . [M]ost appositions (89 percent) were juxtaposed. . . . Even though more than two units can be in apposition, most appositions (92 percent) were single appositions consisting of only two units."
(Charles F. Meyer, Apposition in Contemporary English. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992)

An Interrupter

"Although the appositive does not disturb the natural flow of the sentence as violently as parenthetical expressions do (mainly because the appositive is grammatically coordinate with the unit that it follows), it does interrupt the flow of the sentence, interrupts the flow to supply some gratuitous information or explanation."
(Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, Oxford Univ. Press, 1999)

Appositive Exercises:

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Apposition in Grammar." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Apposition in Grammar. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Apposition in Grammar." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).