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Apposition is a grammatical construction in which two elements, normally noun phrases, are placed side by side and so one element identifies the other in a different way. The two elements are said to be in apposition, and one of the elements is called the appositive, but its identification requires consideration of how the elements are used in a sentence.

For example, in these sentences, the phrases Alice Smith and my sister are in apposition, with the appositive identified with italics:

  • My sister, Alice Smith, likes jelly beans.
  • Alice Smith, my sister, likes jelly beans.

Traditionally, appositions were called by their Latin name appositio although the English form is now more commonly used, which is derived from the Latin ad ("near") and positio ("placement").

Apposition is a figure of speech of the scheme type and often results when the verbs (particularly verbs of being) in supporting clauses are eliminated to produce shorter descriptive phrases. That makes them often function as hyperbatons, or figures of disorder, because they can disrupt the flow of a sentence. For example, in the phrase: "My wife, a surgeon by training,...", it is necessary to pause before the parenthetical modification "a surgeon by training".

Restrictive versus non-restrictive

A restrictive appositive provides information essential to identifying the phrase in apposition. It limits or clarifies that phrase in some crucial way, such that the meaning of the sentence would change if the appositive were removed. In English, restrictive appositives are not set off by commas. The sentences below use restrictive appositives. Here and elsewhere in this section, the relevant phrases are marked as the appositive phraseA or the phrase in appositionP.

  • My friendP Alice SmithA likes jelly beans. – I have many friends, but I am restricting my statement to the one named Alice Smith.
  • He likes the television showP The SimpsonsA. – There are many television shows, and he likes that particular one.

A non-restrictive appositive provides information not critical to identifying the phrase in apposition. It provides non-essential information, and the essential meaning of the sentence would not change if the appositive were removed. In English, non-restrictive appositives are typically set off by commas. The sentences below use non-restrictive appositives.

  • Alice SmithP, my friendA, likes jelly beans. – The fact that Alice is my friend is not necessary to identify her.
  • I visited CanadaP, a beautiful countryA. – The appositive (that it is beautiful) is not needed to identify Canada.
  • The first to arrive at the houseA, sheP unlocked the front door.

The same phrase can be a restrictive appositive in one context and a non-restrictive appositive in another:

  • My brotherP NathanA is here. – Restrictive: I have several brothers, and the one named Nathan is here.
  • My brotherP, NathanA, is here. – Non-restrictive: I have only one brother and, as an aside, his name is Nathan.

If there is any doubt that the appositive is non-restrictive, it is safer to use the restrictive punctuation.[citation needed] In the example above, the restrictive first sentence is still correct even if there is only one brother.

A relative clause is not always an appositive.

  • My sisterP, Alice SmithA, likes jelly beans. – The appositive is the noun phrase Alice Smith.
  • My sisterP, a doctor whose name is Alice SmithA, likes jelly beans. – The appositive is the noun phrase with dependent relative clause a doctor whose name is Alice Smith.
  • My sister, whose name is Alice Smith, likes jelly beans. – There is no appositive. There is a relative clause: whose name is Alice Smith.


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In the following examples, the appositive phrases are shown in italics:

  • I was born in Finland, the land of a thousand lakes. – Appositives are not limited to describing people.
  • Barry Goldwater, the junior senator from Arizona, received the Republican nomination in 1964. – Clarifies who Barry Goldwater is.
  • Ren and Stimpy, both friends of mine, are starting a band. – Provides context on my relation to Ren and Stimpy.
  • Alexander the Great, the Macedonian conqueror of Persia, was one of the most successful military commanders of the ancient world. – Substantiates the sentence's predicate.
  • Aretha Franklin, a very popular singer, will be performing at the White House. – Explains why Aretha Franklin is performing at that venue.
  • You are better than anyone, anyone I've ever met. – Provides additional strength to the phrase.
  • A staunch supporter of democracy, Ann campaigned against the king's authoritarian rule. – Indicates the reason for Ann's actions.

A kind of appositive is the false title, a restrictive phrase, as in "Noted biologist Jane Smith has arrived" in which the phrase Noted biologist is used as an informal title. The use of false titles is controversial.

Appositive phrases can also serve as definitions:

  • No one – not a single person – should ever suffer that way. – Emphatic semantic duplication.

Appositive genitive

In several languages, the same syntax that is used to express such relations as possession can also be used appositively:

  • In English:
    • "Appositive oblique", a prepositional phrase with of as in: the month of December, the sin of pride, or the city of New York. That has also been invoked as an explanation for the double genitive: a friend of mine.
    • The ending -'s as in In Dublin's Fair City. That is uncommon.
  • In Classical Greek:
    • "Genitive of explanation" as in Greek: ὑὸς μέγα χρῆμα, romanizedhyòs méga chrêma, "a monster (great affair) of a boar" (Histories of Herodotus, 1.36), where ὑὸς, the word for boar is inflected for the genitive singular
  • In Japanese:
  • In Biblical Hebrew:

See also


  1. ^ "Commas: Some Common Problems"[permanent dead link], Princeton Writing Program, Princeton University, 1999,
  2. ^ Chapter 5, §14.3 (pages 447–448), Rodney Huddleston, Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-521-43146-8
  3. ^ §1322 (pages 317–318), Herbert Weir Smyth, revised by Gordon M. Messing, Greek Grammar, Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 1956 Perseus Digital Library
  4. ^ "Noun-related Particles | Learn Japanese". Retrieved 2016-05-10.
  5. ^ A dictionary of basic Japanese Grammar. The Japan Times. 1986. p. 312. ISBN 4-7890-0454-6.
  6. ^ §9.5.3h (p. 153), Bruce K. Waltke and Michael Patrick O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990. ISBN 0-931464-31-5

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