How to Use an Appositive

“I called my friend, JJ, to tell him about all our plans!” Have you seen sentences like this that re-state the subject? The part that’s offset by commas re-names the subject, giving more specific information. This grammar structure is called an appositive, and you can use it to introduce or clarify the topic you’re writing about.

How do you use them?

Appositives are nouns or noun phrases that tell more about the subject, so there are many instances in which they may be relevant. However, whether you should offset them with commas depends on whether the information is essential to the meaning of the sentence (restrictive) or just extra detail (non-restrictive).

If the restatement is restrictive and is needed to identify the right subject, then no commas are needed (yes to restrictive = no commas). If the restatement is non-restrictive, just extra information, then use commas (no to restrictive = yes commas). Appositives are a special kind of interrupter, so they follow most of the same rules.

To decide whether or not to use commas, try deleting the appositive to see if the sentence still makes sense.

Notice that in the introductory example the name JJ was offset with commas because it was not strictly necessary. “I called my friend to tell him about all our plans!” makes just as much sense as the original example. So, the restatement is not necessary and commas must be used.

In contrast, consider this example:

Prosecuting company CatsAreAwesome Inc. submitted a statement.

Once again, the proper noun is the appositive, “CatsAreAwesome Inc.” Let’s try testing this sentence by dropping the appositive:

Prosecuting company submitted a statement.

Without other grammatical adjustment, this version is not correct, which means the appositive is necessary and commas are not needed.

Let’s Practice!

Decide whether the following appositives are (a) restrictive or (b) non-restrictive. Check your answers at the end of the page.

  1. My pet elephant kokkiri is so smart!
  2. City Representative Johnson presented to the board.
  3. My neighbor Sally is going to study abroad next semester.
  4. English writing master Lewis published many thoughtful books.
  5. The subject of the article a complicated international relations deal attracted much attention.

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(Answers: 1.b, 2.a, 3.b, 4.a, 5.b)

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