An appositive occurs when a word, sometimes a noun, is followed by another noun or phrase that names or changes it in some way.
The appositive gives the reader more information about the first. It’s also possible for an appositive phrase or noun to come before the word it explains. There are several examples of both kinds of appositives, restrictive and non-restrictive, below.
Definition and Explanation of Appositive
An appositive follows a basic noun or word that is explained in greater detail. It’s not necessary for the appositive word to follow, but it usually makes the sentence more interesting and colorful. It may provide information that’s crucial for a reader’s understanding of what someone looks like, what a place feels like, or what someone is doing.
There is an infinite number of examples of appositives with new ones being created every day with the many varieties of speech and content.
Appositive Phrase Examples
There are many different possible examples of appositive words and phrases. The bolded phrases in the following examples are appositives and the underlined word is the noun it explains.
- I went to see my brother, the one with red hair and two children.
- She chose that house, a big one with a huge pool in the backyard.
- A sweet rescue dog Scout was my favorite animal.
- Mike Lake, the manager, was known for his outrageous rules.
- The skilled architect Sarah Morgan is responsible for these buildings.
- Your brother Simon is in trouble with the law.
In these examples, readers should note that sometimes punctuation is used around the appositive and other times it’s not. It should be used when the appositive is not crucial for the reader’s understanding of the phrase. When it’s extra information that makes the sentence more interesting but doesn’t change its overall meaning, it should go in-between commas. The fourth example above is a good representation of when commas are necessary. But, when the information is crucial, such as in the final example above, it should be outside of commas.
Types of Appositives
- Restrictive Appositives: a restrictive appositive is necessary for a reader’s understanding of the primary word or noun it explains. As noted above, this kind of appositive is sometimes not separated by commas. It is usually directly connected to the primary word. For example: “My friend Jane loves playing with our dog.
- Non-restrictive Appositives: non-restrictive appositives provide readers with extra information that’s not necessary for understanding the sentence. These examples usually use commas to separate the appositive from the word it describes. For example: “I bought a new shirt, one with red and white stripes.”
Examples of Appositives in Literature
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
In the following lines from Charles Dickens’ famed novel Great Expectations, readers can see how important the use of appositives can be. Not just to provide the reader with information they need but also to make descriptions interesting.
In an armchair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see. She was dressed in rich materials—satins, and lace and silks—all of white.
The appositive “satins, and lace and silks” help the reader understand exactly what this scene is like. By adding these bits of information a reader is better able to picture the scene exactly as Dickens intended them to.
Read Charles Dickens’ poetry.
Emma by Jane Austen
In Emma, one of Jane Austen’s better-known novels, readers can find the following lines:
Mr. Knightley, a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty, was not only a very old and intimate friend of the family, but particularly connected with it, as the elder brother of Isabella’s husband.
Here, the narrator is describing Mr. Knightly. The appositive follows his name and reads “a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty.” This piece of information helps the reader understand who this person is and what kind of interest other characters in the novel might have in him.
Read poems by Jane Austen.
In The Giver, there are a number of interesting quotes with examples of appositives including within the following passage:
But the moment passed and was followed by an urge, a need, a passionate yearning to share the warmth with the one person left for him to love. Aching from the effort, he forced the memory of warmth into the thin, shivering body in his arms.
In these lines, the narrator describes Jonah’s thoughts at the end of the novel. He’s standing with Gabriel, a young child he’s recently rescued, and stepping into his new life outside of the community he’s lived in his whole life. The “urge” that Lowry mentions in the first line is further described by “a need, a passionate yearning to share the warmth with the one person left for him to love.”
Why Do Writers Use Appositives?
Writers use appositives because they provide readers with extra information necessary for understanding a noun or other possible word. Without them, readers would lose out on a great deal of information about a person, place, thing, or other kinds of events, and the writing would be far less interesting. They allow writers to complicate their sentences, lines of verse, or lines of dialogue in a play and therefore make the worlds their characters inhabit all the more colorful.
Related Literary Terms
- Connotation: the feeling a writer creates through their word choice. It’s the idea a specific word or set of words evokes.
- Morpheme: the smallest meaningful part of any language. It might be a word, or it might be part of a word.
- Tone: how the writer feels about the text, at least to an extent. All forms of writing, aside from the academic have a tone of some sort.
- Malapropism: occurs when a writer, character, or other source uses a word incorrectly, usually rendering the sentence nonsensical.