Definition and Examples of Appositives in English

In English grammar, an appositive is a noun, noun phrase, or series of nouns placed next to another word or phrase to identify or rename it. The word "appositive" comes from the Latin for "to put near." Nonrestrictive appositives are usually set off by commas, parentheses, or dashes. An appositive may be introduced by a word or phrase such as namely, for example, or that is.

    Appositives in Literature

    Literature makes a great canvas for the use of appositives, as authors such as Alice Walker, George Orwell, and Truman Capote, among others, have shown.

    Alice Walker

    • "My father, a fat, funny man with beautiful eyes and a subversive wit, is trying to decide which of his eight children he will take with him to the county fair." ("Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self." In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens. Harcourt Brace, 1983)

    George Orwell

    • "The hangman, a grey-haired convict in the white uniform of the prison, was waiting beside his machine."("A Hanging," 1931)

    Truman Capote

    • "Christmas Eve afternoon we scrape together a nickel and go to the butcher's to buy Queenie's traditional gift, a good gnawable beef bone." ("A Christmas Memory." Mademoiselle, December 1956)
    • "The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there.'" (In Cold Blood. Random House, 1966)
    • "The sky was sunless and grey, there was snow in the air, buoyant motes, play things that seethed and floated like the toy flakes inside a crystal." ("The Muses Are Heard")

    Aldous Huxley

    • "Television was left on, a running tap, from morning till night." (Brave New World, 1932)

    Kate Simon

    • "Though her cheeks were high-colored and her teeth strong and yellow, she looked like a mechanical woman, a machine with flashing, glassy circles for eyes." (Bronx Primitive, 1982)

    Alexander Theroux

    • "The essence of loneliness is that one both remembers and hopes, though in vain, in the midst of one's dissolution. Plain nothingness compared to it is a comfort, a kind of hibernation, a tundra of arctic whiteness that negates feeling and want." ("An Interview with Alexander Theroux." Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spring 1991)

    Robert Penn Warren

    • "They passed the last house, a small grey house set in the open field. Yellow gullies ran across the field, bald plateaus of snow-smeared sod between gully and gully." ("Christmas Gift," 1938)

    T. Coraghassen Boyle

    • "Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of the cornflake and peanut butter, not to mention caramel-cereal coffee, Bromose, Nuttolene, and some seventy-five other gastronomically correct foods, paused to level his gaze on the heavyset women in front of him." (The Road to Wellville. Viking, 1993)

    Sarah Vowell

    • "Dad's shop was a messy disaster area, a labyrinth of lathes...My domain was the cramped, cold space known as the music room. It was also a messy disaster area, an obstacle course of musical instruments—piano, trumpet, baritone horn, valve trombone, various percussion doodads (bells!), and recorders." ("Shooting Dad." Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World. Simon & Schuster, 2000)

    Bill Bryson

    • "As I stood on the platform beneath another, fairly recent London civility—namely an electronic board announcing that the next train to Hainault would be arriving in four minutes—I turned my attention to the greatest of all civilities: the London Underground Map. What a piece of perfection it is, created in 1931 by a forgotten hero named Harry Beck, an out-of-work draftsman who realized that when you are underground it doesn't actually matter where you are." (Notes From a Small Island. Doubleday, 1995)

    Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

    • "[N]othing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye." (Letter I in Frankenstein, 1818)

    E.L. Doctorow

    • "And then there was that feeling one gets in a ride to a cemetery trailing a body in a coffin—an impatience with the dead, a longing to be back home where one could get on with the illusion that not death but daily life is the permanent condition." (Homer & Langley. Random House, 2009)

    Appositives in Academics

    Academicians and others have also explained the appositive and how this element of grammar functions, as the following excerpts demonstrate.

    Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas

    • "The appositive is a substantive or nominal set off by commas from the word which it identifies. We say that the appositive is used in apposition with the other word. Ex: The king, my brother, has been murdered. Ex: we spotted Tom Hanks, the movie star, at the cafe yesterday.
    • In the first example, the noun brother is used in apposition with the subject king. The appositive renames or describes the subject king by specifying which king the sentence is about. In the second example, the noun star is used in apposition with the proper noun Tom Hanks, a direct object. The appositive clarifies the proper name, telling us which Tom Hanks was seen. For all we know, the writer could have a cousin named Tom Hanks. Remember that the appositive and the noun to which it refers always share the same four properties—gender, number, person, and case—since they both name the same entity." (The Grammar Bible. Owl Books, 2004)

    Gary Lutz and Diane Stevenson

    • "'Ben's brother Bob helped him build the house.' If Ben has more than one brother, the name Bob would be necessary to identify which brother is being discussed—in other words, to restrict the meaning of the word brother. If Ben has only one brother, the name Bob would be additional information not essential to the meaning of the sentence; Bob would be a nonrestrictive appositive. Nonrestrictive appositives are always set off by punctuation. Since no punctuation surrounds the appositive Bob in this example, we know that Bob is a restrictive appositive (and that Ben has more than one brother)." (The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference. F+W Publications, 2005)

    Appositives in Popular Culture

    Magazine writers, film characters, and even companies selling products have effectively used appositives over the years, as the following quotes show.

    Nick Paumgarten

    • "The Otis Elevator Company, the world’s oldest and biggest elevator manufacturer, claims that its products carry the equivalent of the world’s population every five days." ("Up and Then Down." The New Yorker, Apr. 21, 2008)

    Gary Cooper

    • "I have had the great honor to have played with these great veteran ballplayers on my left—Murderers Row, our championship team of 1927. I have had the further honor of living with and playing with these men on my right—the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees of today." (Playing the part of Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees, 1942)

    Joshua Hammer

    • "The Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, Africa's only nuclear power plant, was inaugurated in 1984 by the apartheid regime and is the major source of electricity for the Western Cape's 4.5 million population." ("Inside Cape Town." Smithsonian, April 2008)

    Spectator Magazine

    • "The Spectator. Champagne for the brain." (Ad slogan for the magazine)

    Xerox

    • "Xerox. The Document Company." (Ad slogan)

    Appositive Exercises

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    Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Appositives in English." ThoughtCo, Jul. 4, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-appositive-grammar-1689128. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, July 4). Definition and Examples of Appositives in English. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-appositive-grammar-1689128 Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Appositives in English." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-appositive-grammar-1689128 (accessed July 31, 2021).