by Davy Kraken
A library featuring commonly committed errors of the English language.
|An appositive is a noun phrase—that is, a noun which may or may not be accompanied by modifiers—whose objective it is to describe or specify the noun phrase immediately preceding or following it. These side-by-side elements are said to be in apposition, which is where appositives get their name.
Like relative clauses, appositives come in essential and non-essential varieties. (For more information on relative clauses, see this entry: "Relative Clauses" .) Unlike relative clauses, however, appositives can appear at the beginning of a sentence.
An appositive is non-essential if its absence wouldn’t hinder understanding of the sentence. The purpose of a non-essential appositive is to further describe the noun in apposition. A non-essential appositive should always be set apart from the rest of the sentence by commas.
An appositive is essential if its absence would leave the audience with a question. The purpose of an essential appositive is to specify the noun in apposition. An essential appositive, therefore, should not be set apart from the rest of the sentence by commas.
A venerable actor, Sean Connery was the first to play the role of James Bond.
The movie Titanic is the highest grossing film of all time in both the international and domestic box offices.
We buried my hamster, Hamlet, in the backyard.
I think I’ll go out to eat with my friend Jessica.
You wouldn’t want to receive a bite from the Fierce Snake, the world’s most poisonous serpent.
Though you may want to know who played James Bond next, reading the first sentence without the appositive wouldn’t beg any further questions about Sean Connery.
Reading the second sentence without the appositive would prompt us to ask, “Which movie?”
Reading the third sentence without the appositive wouldn’t leave us with any questions unless the speaker owned more than one hamster, in which case specifying “Hamlet” would be essential.
Conversely, reading the fourth sentence without the appositive would make us wonder, “Which friend?” unless the speaker only had one friend, in which case specifying “Jessica” would be non-essential.
The appositive in the last sentence, like the one in the first, simply adds an extra tidbit of information.