GrammarPhile Blog

Appositives

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Oct 9, 2012, 5:30:00 AM

woman in a yoga poseWhile many people may not know what an appositive is, clients use them often in the documents we see on our server. This week's post is on the appositive and how to use it. We use as our guide the venerable Chicago Manual of Style.

A word, abbreviation, phrase, or clause that is in apposition to a noun is set off by commas if it is nonrestrictive - that is, omittable, containing supplementary rather than essential information. If it is restrictive - essential to the noun it belongs to - no commas should appear.

  • The yoga instructor, Stella, posed for photos.
  • Mortimer Schnerd, chair of the termite eradication committee, spoke first.
  • Howdy Doody, Mortimer's brother, then delivered a rather wooden speech to the crowd.
  • Tulabell's husband, Rockford, had been a student of Big Jim McShane's. (In formal prose, "Tulabell's husband Rockford had ..." is acceptable.)
  • My older brother, Snagglefoot, taught me to waterski.
but
  • My sister Wahine surfed the North Shore last winter. (I have two sisters.)
  • Margrave's movie Ski Florida If You Can! is in theatres now. (Margrave made several movies.)

Going Deeper

A problem arises when a proper name includes a comma before the final element, as in "the [Slobovian] Constitution Act, 1798" or "California State University, Bumbleridge." Because such a comma is part of the name and not part of the surrounding sentence, a second comma is not, strictly speaking, required when the name appears in the middle of a clause. But its absence may be sufficiently disturbing to most readers to suggest recasting the sentence (as in the first example below), slipping in a mildly illegal comma (as in the second), or adding a nonrestrictive clause or phrase after the proper name (as in the third).

  • the 1798 Constitution Act was hailed ...
  • California State University, Bumbleridge, has a waterski team ...
  • California State University, Bumbleridge, often called CSUB, has a waterski team ...

Topics: punctuation, appositives

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