Sentence variations add interest and variety to a piece of writing, improve rhythm, or help you trim wordy sentences. One sentence variation, the appositive, can even help you combine two sentences:

    Bertram is a master chef.
    Bertram works at La Petite Restaurant.

into one sentence:

    Bertram, a master chef, works at La Petite Restaurant.

What’s an Appositive?

Mutt in streetAn appositive is a noun or noun phrase that immediately follows another noun. An appositive explains or defines the noun it follows and is usually set off by commas.
In these examples, the noun or pronoun is red and the appositive is tan.

  • Mike’s dog, a mutt, sat down in the street.
  • Mike’s dog, a scrawny mutt, sat down in the street.
  • Mike’s dog, a scrawny mutt with scruffy coat, sat down in the street.
  • Mike’s dog, a scrawny, scruffy-coated mutt with no common sense, sat down in the street.

A few more examples:

  • My neighbor Augustus grew a 100-pound pumpkin last summer.
  • Flipper, Melvin’s pet goldfish, lives in a glass bowl on the bookshelf.
  • Grandpa’s ancient Buick, a behemoth of a car, still drives like a charm.
  • The garage, a danger zone, is filled with tools, bags of used clothing, boxes of papers, stacks of old magazines, and countless other piles of junk.

Punctuating the Appositive

Some appositives require commas and others don’t.

Commas Needed. You’ll need to use commas if the sentence would still be complete and clear without the appositive. Put one comma before the appositive and one after when it provides non-essential information.

  • Dilbert Dithers, one of the town’s junk dealers, collects vintage radios. (The sentence makes sense without the appositive. Since the appositive adds non-essential information, commas are necessary.)

Commas Not Needed. If the appositive gives meaning to the sentence, you will not need to put commas around the appositive. One-word appositives do not need commas.

  • The American author Ernest Hemingway spent many years abroad. (Since there are many American authors, Ernest Hemingway makes the sentence meaningful. Therefore, no commas are needed.)
  • Her brother Roscoe lives in Walla Walla. (In order to explain which of her brothers she’s referring to, Roscoe becomes essential information. It’s also a one-word appositive. Therefore, no commas are needed.)

Choosing Where to Place an Appositive

An appositive can BEGIN a sentence.

  • A prize-winning baker, Mrs. Patchett loves to make pies, cakes, and cookies.

An appositive can BREAK UP a sentence.

  • Mrs. Patchett, a prize-winning baker, loves to make pies, cakes, and cookies.

And an appositive can END a sentence.

  • Needing donations for the church bake sale, the committee called Mrs. Patchett, a prize-winning baker who loves to make pies, cakes, and cookies.
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#1 joy on 01.23.09 at 4:13 am

Well I never knew that was what they were called. What I need to share with children is why writers do this.
Thanks for a great post.

#2 Kim on 01.23.09 at 10:40 am

Appositives are definitely handy for adding variety to sentence structure. Thank you for your comment, Joy.

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