Definition of Appositive

When a noun or word is followed by another noun or phrase that renames or identifies it, this is called appositive. This is a literary device that appears before or after a noun or noun phrase. It is always used with commas. Simply, we can define it as a noun phrase or a noun that defines or explains another noun, which it follows.

In this grammatical structure, writers place elements like noun phrases side by side where one element serves to define the other, and one is in apposition to the other. For instance, “We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages.” (A Hanging by George Orwell) In this line, “the condemned cells” is a noun phrase, while “a row of sheds” is an appositive that explains this noun phrase.

Types of Appositive

Restrictive Appositive

It gives essential information to identify the phrase or noun in apposition. It clarifies the meaning of a phrase but if the appositive is removed, the meaning of entire sentence changes. Commas are not necessarily used in this type of appositive such as “John’s friend, Michael, likes chocolates.” Here John has others friends, but the statement is restricted to only Michael.

Non-Restrictive Appositive

It gives non-essential or extra information, which is not important to identify the phrase or noun in apposition. This type of appositive is often used with commas, for example, “John, my friend, likes to eat chocolates.” Here, my friend is non-restrictive appositive, which is not necessary to be used for identifying John.

Examples of Appositive in Literature

Example 1

“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.”

(From A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote)

In the above excerpt, a restrictive appositive is clarifying and describing a noun “traditional gift of Queenie.” Here this literary device has appeared after noun.

Example 2

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.

(From Bronx Primitive by Kate Simon)

In this example, a noun “mechanical woman “is defined and identified by a long noun phrase, a restrictive appositive “ a machine…eyes.” , which serves as a useful device in this excerpt, and brings variety in a sentence, enhancing its meanings.

Example 3

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.

(From The Pride of the Yankees by Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig)

Gehrig identifies a noun ballplayers by using restrictive appositive “murderers row” and further, he adds a noun championship team. These two appositives are used with commas and add meaning and significance to the sentence.

Example 4

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.

(From Inside Cape Town by Joshua Hammer)

In the above extract, Hammer has used an appositive immediately after the noun phrase “Nuclear power station”, which adds information to the sentence. This presents an example of non-restrictive appositive that if removed, does not change the meanings of the sentence.

Example 5

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.

(From Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self by Alice Walker)

This is another good example of non-restrictive appositive, in which a noun “father” does not need extra information, but author has used a long noun phrase “a fat” “funny man…wit” to explain it.

Function of Appositive

The function of appositive in literary works is to provide information, which is either essential or additional. It also gives meanings to different sentences in literary texts, and helps in identifying other nouns. Besides, an appositive noun also defines, explains and clarify the meanings of a sentence. It is helpful to combine sentences to avoid e faulty, too many choppy and short sentences. In addition, an appositive phrases give variety to a literary work by using sentences of varied lengths, allowing the writers to use interesting details with smooth flow of reading experience.

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1 comment for “Appositive

  1. D. Ross
    February 27, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    So, what do you say to people who say you should omit commas around restrictive appositives?

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