Do you know what appositives are? 

They are nouns that rename other nouns, and we use them to give more information about someone or something that we've already named. In this lesson, we'll look more closely at what they are, and we'll see how they're diagrammed.

The author Victor Hugo was born in France.

My sister, a French teacher, studied in France.

What do they do?

They rename another word. What does that mean?

Esther, my sister with dark hair, sang a song.

Esther is the subject of the sentence. It is also a noun. The word sister is renaming Esther. It is a noun that gives us more information about Esther. Both words are referring to the same person.

So, sister is a noun that renames another noun, Esther. 


Mike and Bri graduated from UWEC, my alma mater.

Appositive Phrases

Do you know much about phrases? Phrases are groups of words, without both a subject and a verb, that come together to act as one part of speech. 


Esther, my sister with dark hair, sang a song.

The appositive is the single word that is doing the renaming (sister). 

The phrase is that single word plus all of the words that are modifying it (my sister with dark hair).

Nonessential or Essential? (+ How to Punctuate Them)

There are two types of appositives (nonessential and essential), and it's important to know the difference because they are punctuated differently.

Nonessential – Use Commas

Most are nonessential. (These are also called nonrestrictive.) That means that they're not an essential part of the sentence, and sentences would be clear without them. Set these apart from the sentence with commas. 

  • My sister, a French teacher, studied in France during high school.
  • My mom, a talented woman, recorded a lullaby CD.
  • My husband, David, is allergic to cats.

Essential – Don't Use Commas

Some are essential to the meaning of the sentence. (These are also called restrictive.) If these weren't in the sentence, the meaning of the sentence would be unclear. 

The movie Green Book won the award for best picture.

The author Victor Hugo was born in France.

Do you see how we need those in order to understand the meaning of those sentences? Without them, we wouldn't know which movie or author the sentence was referring to.

You can learn more about when to use commas with appositives here. 

Intensive Pronouns

Intensive pronouns are used to emphasize another noun or pronoun. We can also call these emphatic appositives. Never use commas with these. 

I made a sandwich for the president himself

My sister herself paid for my popcorn.

Sentence Diagramming

To diagram these, put them in parentheses after the noun that they're renaming. 

What is an Appositive Phrase? | Appositive Phrase Examples and Appositive Phrase Definition

An appositive is a noun or pronoun that renames or identifies another noun or pronoun in some way. An appositive phrase consists of an appositive and its modifiers. An appositive phrase can be either essential (restrictive) or nonessential (nonrestrictive).

An essential appositive phrase provides information that is necessary for identifying the noun or pronoun that precedes it. Without the essential appositive phrase, the sentence doesn’t make much sense.

In contrast, a nonessential appositive phrase provides additional information about a noun or pronoun in a sentence whose meaning is already clear. It gives the reader extra—but nonessential—information.

A nonessential appositive phrase should be set off with commas.

Essential Appositive Phrase Examples:


(William Shakespeare is the appositive phrase. It identifies author.)

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed many buildings, including New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

(Frank Lloyd Wright is the appositive phrase. It identifies architect.)

Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and was made into a movie in 1939.

(Gone with the Wind is the appositive phrase. It identifies novel.)

The newspaper The New York Times first appeared in the 1850s.

(The New York Times is the appositive phrase. It identifies newspaper.)

Artist Georgia O’Keeffe famously painted many images of flowers.

(Georgia O’Keeffe is the appositive phrase. It identifies artist.)

The cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs concerts all over the world.

(Yo-Yo Ma is the appositive phrase. It identifies cellist.)

Nonessential Appositive Phrase Examples:

Appositives(The dog that lives next door is the appositive phrase. It identifies Frankie.) Babe Ruth, a baseball player with the New York Yankees, held the home-run record for nearly 40 years.

(A baseball player with the New York Yankees is the appositive phrase. It identifies Babe Ruth.)

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During our vacation, we went snorkeling off Cozumel, an island in Mexico.

(An island in Mexico is the appositive phrase. It identifies Cozumel.)

The lindy hop, a dance style, became popular in the 1920s.

(A dance style is the appositive phrase. It identifies lindy hop.)

Sherlock Holmes, a character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, continues to appear in television shows more than 100 years after his first appearance in print.

(A character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the appositive phrase. It identifies Sherlock Holmes.)

Rio de Janeiro, a city in Brazil, is famous for its Carnival celebration.

(A city in Brazil is the appositive phrase. It identifies Rio de Janeiro.)

Why Are Appositives and Appositive Phrases Important?

Whether they are essential or nonessential, appositives and appositive phrases make your writing more descriptive by providing key details about a person, place, or thing.

Related Topics:
Infinitive Phrase
Participle Phrase
Gerund Phrase
Prepositional Phrase
Adjective Phrase
Adverb Phrase
Verb Phrase
All Grammar Terms

Appositives & Appositive Phrases

Our sentences are not just a bunch of words thrown together. Those words must be divided and organized into communicable units. Otherwise, the whole purpose of language is lost. An appositive is one of those units.

Before we take a closer look at appositives, however, we need to review phrases and clauses. A phrase is a word or group of words that function as a meaningful unit within a sentence. A clause is a unit of words usually containing a subject and a verb.

However, clauses do not have to be a complete sentence. In order to understand appositives and how to format them in sentences, you need to remember the functions of phrases and clauses within a sentence.

So, now that we've reviewed those, let's look at how appositives are used and formatted in our writing.

What Are Appositives?

In daily speech and writing, we are constantly renaming things. People and objects can have many names. For instance, I am Robert, but I can also be called a man, a teacher, a son, or a brother. All these names can refer to me in different contexts. This is true for nearly any noun.

An appositive is a phrase, usually a noun phrase, that renames another phrase or noun. A noun phrase is a group of words taking the job of a noun in a sentence.

Noun phrases consist of the main noun and any modifiers. For example, 'yellow house,' 'high school teacher,' and 'the large dog' are all noun phrases.

Here is an example of a sentence using a one word appositive to rename another noun.

  • My best friend, Sammy, lives in Cleveland.

The word Sammy is the appositive in that sentence, as it renames the noun phrase 'my best friend.' Appositives can also come in the form of phrases. Here are two more examples of sentences using an appositive phrase.

  • My childhood home, a yellow and blue house, is just down the road.
  • His fish, Gill and Phineas, need to be fed once a day.

The two appositive phrases are 'a yellow and blue house' and 'Gill and Phineas.'

Punctuation Appositives

The punctuation surrounding the appositive depends on its necessity in the sentence. To determine this, you must first understand restrictive versus nonrestrictive clauses.

A restrictive clause is one that is needed in the sentence because it limits the options in some way. A nonrestrictive clause is one that is not needed in the sentence and can be removed without affecting the underlying meaning.

Restrictive clauses do not need to be set off by commas, but nonrestrictive ones do.

Look back at this example sentence:

  • My best friend, Sammy, lives in Cleveland.

The appositive is the word Sammy, which is nonrestrictive; this information is not necessary in the sentence. If you take out the word 'Sammy,' it is still grammatically correct and makes logical sense. Therefore, this appositive is set off by commas. Now look at an example that is restrictive.

  • The English author William Shakespeare wrote the famous play Romeo and Juliet.

Appositives—What They Are and How to Use Them

An appositive noun or noun phrase follows another noun or noun phrase in apposition to it; that is, it provides information that further identifies or defines it. Such “bonus facts” are framed by commas unless the appositive is restrictive (i.e., provides essential information about the noun).

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Appose is a very old word that one doesn’t cross paths with much except in the realms of grammar and science. It came to English from Middle French via Latin, and means “to put near, side by side, or alongside.

” It doesn’t quite mean the same as oppose, but it is quite close in meaning to juxtapose. Apposition is used in medical science to describe how cell walls defend themselves by thickening themselves with layers of protection.

In grammar, an element is said to be placed in apposition to another element if it provides an extra layer of description to it.

What Is an Appositive?

At its heart, an appositive is bonus information.

Hermione Granger, a witch at Hogwarts School, is accomplished at spells.

The core of this sentence is Hermione Granger is accomplished at spells. A witch at Hogwarts School is an appositive noun phrase that gives us additional information about Hermione Granger.

The Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel’s masterpiece, can be found on the Champs de Mars.

This is a sentence about where the Eiffel Tower can be found. The appositive phrase Gustave Eiffel’s masterpiece tells us a bit more about the sentence’s subject noun, Eiffel Tower.

My childhood friend, Anne-Marie, loved horses.

Here, the core sentence is My childhood friend loved horses. It works as a sentence on its own, but the appositive, the proper noun Anne-Marie, gives the reader supplemental information about my friend. It renames her.

Commas and Appositives

Appositive nouns and noun phrases are often nonrestrictive; that is, they can be omitted from a sentence without obscuring the identity of the nouns they describe.

Another word for nonrestrictive is nonessential. Always bookend a nonrestrictive, appositive noun or phrase with commas in the middle of a sentence.

If the noun or phrase is placed at the end of a sentence, it should be preceded by a comma.

Use Commas to Frame Nonrestrictive Elements

Frédéric Chopin a Polish composer was one of the most celebrated virtuoso pianists of his day.

Frédéric Chopin, a Polish composer, was one of the most celebrated virtuoso pianists of his day.

Examples of Appositive Nouns

You may not realize it, but you use appositive nouns every day to provide more detail in your sentence. They are two nouns that work together, where one identifies or further defines the other. Sounds almost abstract, right? Fear not, as soon as you review these examples of appositive nouns, it'll all make sense.

When you talk about an appositive, it generally implies the word “noun,” so we can just refer to an appositive noun as an appositive. An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that renames the noun next to it.

For example, if you said, “The boy raced ahead to the finish line,” adding an appositive could result in “The boy, an avid sprinter, raced ahead to the finish line.”

The sentence is still complete without the appositive; however, adding the appositive presents more information about the other noun.

An appositive can come before or after the main noun and it can be at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence, as long as it sits beside the noun it defines. As a noun phrase, an appositive does not have a subject or predicate, and is not a complete thought.

Don't overuse appositives in your writing. All it takes is one too many, and a paragraph can becomes long, cluttered, and confusing. Only use them when they can add to the character of the noun and provide more interest to your work.

The best way to become acquainted with any part of speech is to practice it constantly and use it appropriately. If you frequently review examples of appositive nouns, you'll be well on your way to total mastery. The appositives in the examples below are in bold.

  • Gus, Eric's black cat, slowly crept up behind the kittens.
  • The bookshelf, a large piece of furniture, was moved into the house first.
  • The spider, a big and hairy creature, scared the children as they played in the grass.
  • My brother, a human garbage disposal, consumed five cheeseburgers in one sitting last night.
  • Kara's designer bag, a display of her wealth, was stained with paint because she wasn't careful.
  • They couldn't believe when the little boy stood up to John, the biggest bully in school.
  • Mara's sundae, a gigantic mountain of ice cream, started to melt when she took it outside.
  • An enormous man with great strength, Henry was able to carry the entire pallet of bricks by himself.
  • Jasmine was the belle of the ball in her new dress, a turquoise ball gown.
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Appositives are two words or word groups which mean the same thing and are placed together. Appositives identify or explain the nouns or pronouns which they modify:

  • Our teacher, Professor Lamanna, loves grammar.

We can say that “Professor Lamanna” is an appositive or is in apposition to “our teacher.” “Professor Lamanna” identifies or explains “teacher.'

Appositive Phrases

An appositive phrase includes an appositive and its modifiers:

  • My favorite place, the English building, is located on the Quad, a grassy square in the middle of the campus.

Restrictive Appositives

A restrictive appositive is necessary to maintain the meaning of the sentence and does not require commas. Usually, a restrictive appositive is a single word closely related to the preceding word. It “restricts” or narrows the meaning of the word it modifies:

  • The musician Harry Connick will come to Champaign. (“Harry Connick” restricts the general term “musician.”)
  • My sister Mary has four dogs.

Nonrestrictive Appositive

A nonrestrictive appositive may be omitted without changing the basic meaning of the sentence. A nonrestrictive appositive is separated by commas. Commas are always used when the word which the appositive modifies is a proper noun:

  • Harry Connick, the musician, will come to Champaign. (“Musician” offers additional information about the specific name “Harry Connick”)
  • There are many parades for Mardi Gras, a religious festival celebrating the last day before Lent, in New Orleans, a city in Louisiana.

Punctuation Note

A dash or colon, as well as a comma, can be used to set off appositives:

  • For the prisoner there was only one goal–escape.

Appositives // Purdue Writing Lab


This handout defines appositives and explains how they are used.

An appositive is a noun or pronoun — often with modifiers — set beside another noun or pronoun to explain or identify it. Here are some examples of appositives (the noun or pronoun will be in blue, the appositive will be in red).

  • Your friend Bill is in trouble.
  • My brother's car, a sporty red convertible with bucket seats, is the envy of my friends.
  • The chief surgeon, an expert in organ-transplant procedures, took her nephew on a hospital tour.
  • An appositive phrase usually follows the word it explains or identifies, but it may also precede it.
  • A bold innovator, Wassily Kandinsky is known for his colorful abstract paintings.

The first state to ratify the U. S. Constitution, Delaware is rich in history.

A beautiful collie, Skip was my favorite dog.

In some cases, the noun being explained is too general without the appositive; the information is essential to the meaning of the sentence. When this is the case, do not place commas around the appositive; just leave it alone. If the sentence would be clear and complete without the appositive, then commas are necessary; place one before and one after the appositive.

Here are some examples.

The popular US president John Kennedy was known for his eloquent and inspirational speeches.

Here we do not put commas around the appositive because it is essential information. Without the appositive, the sentence would be, “The popular US president was known for his eloquent and inspirational speeches.” We wouldn't know who the president is without the appositive.

John Kennedy, the popular US president, was known for his eloquent and inspirational speeches.

Here we put commas around the appositive because it is not essential information. Without the appositive, the sentence would be, “John Kennedy was known for his eloquent and inspirational speeches.” We still know who the subject of the sentence is without the appositive.

John Kennedy the popular US president was almost an entirely different person than John Kennedy the young naval reservist.

Here we do not put commas around either appositive because they are both essential to understanding the sentence. Without the appositives, the sentence would just be John Kennedy was quite different from John Kennedy. We wouldn't know what qualities of John Kennedy were being referred to without the appositive.

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