If you’re like many other students, you probably use appositives quite a bit in your writing. But if your instructor refers to them by name, you may draw a blank -- as in, “An appositive; now, what’s that again?” Fortunately, appositives are straightforward. Brush up on how an appositive phrase usually works in a sentence, then try dazzling your instructor with an ancillary term: nonrestrictive modifier.
Appositives Augment a Noun or Phrase
An appositive is a noun or phrase that immediately follows a noun or pronoun to amplify or expound on it. (In fact, many students remember the meaning of “appositive” by focusing on the suffix, “positive,” though an appositive can certainly add negative information about a noun or pronoun, too.) An appositive augments a sentence but is not absolutely necessary, which means that you can delete an appositive without changing the meaning of the sentence. This is what makes an appositive a "nonrestrictive modifier." Because appositives are set off by commas, it’s easy to spot them. Appositives appear between the commas in the middle of these two sentences: “The hockey player, proud of his aggressive behavior on the ice, lost two teeth in one game last season” and “The referee, determined not to get in the middle of a grudge match, now wears a titanium mouthpiece.”
- The Scott Foresman Handbook for Writers; Maxine Hairston and John Ruszkiewicz; 1991.
- The New St. Martin’s Handbook; Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors; 1999.
- Step by Step Writing; Randy Devillez; 1992.
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Expository Essays
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