What is an appositive?

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What is an appositive?

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.

Quick Refresher

Nouns are words that name people, places, things, or ideas, and pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. Nouns and pronouns can do many jobs in our sentences (subjects, direct objects, predicate nouns, appositives…).

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. 

appositive sentence diagram

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. 

Sentence diagram of an appositive
sentence diagram of an appositive

Add any words that modify it on slanted lines just like other modifiers.

appositive phrase
sentence diagram with appositive and prepositional phrase

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If only we had teachers like you back in the 70's when they were trying to teach me this. I was baffled by the diagramming stuff until just now. Thank you! :)

- John

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Other Helpful Resources

Did you know that you can use these to combine sentences? See this helpful PDF to try it out!