Appositives are nouns or noun phrases that provide information about another noun or noun phrase that precedes them (e.g., “Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, is a hero of mine”).
The noun or noun phrase described by an appositive is called the antecedent. The relationship between an antecedent and its appositive is called apposition.
The appositive typically follows the antecedent and is set apart from the rest of the sentence by commas. If the appositive provides information that is essential to understanding the sentence, however, commas should not be used (e.g., “My friend Devon is in med school”).
Appositive examples Emily, our only daughter, is learning to drive.
The AustrianFranz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I consider the Russian novelistDostoyevsky to be one of the greatest writers of all time.
Appositives are divided into two categories based on the type of information they provide. These categories determine whether the appositive requires punctuation marks, such as commas.
Restrictive appositives are not set off by commas because they provide essential information that helps identify the antecedent (e.g., “We watched the Hitchcock film Vertigo”). Without the restrictive antecedent, it would be unclear which Hitchcock film is being discussed.
Nonrestrictive appositives are set off by commas because they provide nonessential information that is not required to identify the antecedent (e.g., “My maternal grandfather, Henry, studied history”). If the nonrestrictive appositive were removed from the sentence, the sentence would not lose any of its essential meaning.
Examples: Restrictive appositives
Examples: Nonrestrictive appositives
Our neighbor Mrs. Robinson brought us a casserole.
I sent a postcard to my oldest nephew, Danny.
Celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum.
California’s Redwood National Park is the home of Hyperion, the world’s tallest recorded tree.
The groundbreaking scientist Rosalind Franklin played a crucial role in deciphering the structure of DNA.
Syria’s capital, Damascus, has been continuously inhabited for at least 11,000 years.
Nonrestrictive appositives, also called nonessential appositives, contribute information that may add clarity to a sentence. However, without this added information, the sentence would carry exactly the same meaning.
Nonrestrictive appositive examples ✓ The CEO of Acme, Mr. Smith, just resigned. ✓
The CEO of Acme just resigned.
In this instance, the antecedent “the CEO of Acme” makes it clear who resigned. The nonrestrictive appositive serves as a reminder of the CEO’s name, but his identity is still clear without the appositive.
In addition to commas, nonrestrictive appositives can be set off by parentheses or em dashes. If it occurs at the end of a sentence, a nonrestrictive appositive can also be introduced by a colon.
Examples: Punctuating nonrestrictive appositives ✗
The CEO of Acme Mr. Smith just resigned. ✓
The CEO of Acme, Mr. Smith, just resigned. ✓
The CEO of Acme—Mr. Smith—just resigned. ✓
The CEO of Acme (Mr. Smith) just resigned. ✓
The individual who just resigned was the CEO of Acme: Mr. Smith.
Restrictive appositives: Don’t include commas
Restrictive appositives, also called essential appositives, contribute information that must be included to identify the antecedent. In sentences with a restrictive appositive, the appositive can’t be removed without changing the sentence’s meaning and making it more vague.
Restrictive appositive examples ✓
The singer Amy Winehouse was born in a suburb of London. ✗
The singer was born in a suburb of London.
The second sentence is vague, identifying its subject only as “the singer,” which could describe any one of millions of people. The second sentence could be used if Amy Winehouse were mentioned in a preceding sentence, but by itself, it is too vague.
Restrictive appositives don’t take commas, parentheses, em dashes, or any other punctuation. Setting off a restrictive appositive with punctuation would imply that the appositive is equivalent to the antecedent (e.g., that Amy Winehouse is the only person who could be called “the singer”).
Examples: Punctuating restrictive appositives ✗
The singer, Amy Winehouse, was born in a suburb of London. ✗
The singer (Amy Winehouse) was born in a suburb of London. ✗
The singer—Amy Winehouse—was born in a suburb of London. ✓
The singer Amy Winehouse was born in a suburb of London.
In some sentences, the same appositive might be treated as either restrictive or nonrestrictive depending on the context.
“My sister Pamela” makes sense without a comma if the speaker has more than one sister. If Pamela is the speaker’s only sister, a comma must be added (i.e., “My sister, Pamela”) to show that Pamela is the only person the antecedent could be describing.
Appositives that come before antecedents
While appositives typically follow antecedents, sometimes a nonrestrictive appositive is followed by a comma and then the noun it describes.
Examples: Appositives before antecedents
Home to a diverse range of plant and animal life, the Amazon rainforest plays a vital role in the global ecosystem.
A testament to human ingenuity, the Great Wall of China is so large that it’s visible from space.
A symbol of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is admired both as a feat of engineering and for its vibrant color.
Appositives for emphasis
Nonrestrictive appositives, set apart by commas or other punctuation, can be used to add emphasis. These appositives are often quite similar to the antecedent, adding as few as one word for heightened effect (e.g., in the saying “home, sweet home”).
Alternatively, they might emphasize already-known information, bolstering the emotional weight of a statement (e.g., “Marriage, that blessed arrangement, that dream within a dream” from The Princess Bride).
Examples: Appositives used for emphasis Clara, poor Clara. What was she thinking?
He finally had a dog, a dog that was his very own.
Nonrestrictive appositives can also be placed at the end of a sentence for emphasis. Using an em dash or colon instead of a comma indicates especially strong emphasis. In such cases, the antecedent may not directly precede the appositive.
Example: Appositives used for emphasis at the end of a sentence The detective surveyed the crime scene—a particularly gruesome one.
She would face her greatest fear by the end of the day: diving among sharks.
Introducing an appositive
Introductory words and phrases can be used between the antecedent and the appositive to clarify the appositive’s purpose. These introductions can signal that the appositive will rephrase the antecedent, (e.g., “that is,” “i.e.”), add specificity (e.g., “namely,” “specifically”), add emphasis (e.g., “particularly,” “especially”), or name examples (e.g., “such as,” “for example,” “including,” “e.g.”).
Examples: Introducing appositives The Romance languages (e.g., Spanish and Italian) have similar grammatical rules.
We love dancing—especially salsa dancing.
The bill proposed several new policies, namely, infrastructure spending, job creation, and educational reforms.
Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.
An antecedent is a word or phrase that another word or phrase refers back to. It’s most commonly seen with pronouns. For example, in the sentence “The artist is here, and he wants to talk to you,” “he” refers back to the antecedent “artist,” and they agree in person, number, and gender.
Antecedents aren't limited to pronouns, however. They are also relevant to appositives and possessive determiners.
Appositives: “The poet Emily Dickinson was reclusive.” (“Emily Dickinson” is the appositive of the antecedent “the poet”).
Possessive determiner: “Gabriel left his book on the desk.” (“His” refers back to the antecedent “Gabriel”).