Are You Making this Common Mistake with Appositives?

An appositive is a modifier. It’s a noun or noun phrase that immediately follows another noun or noun phrase to further define it. You probably use appositives all the time without even realizing it. But are you punctuating them correctly?

Why am I devoting a blog to appositives? I’m so glad you asked!

Learning how to punctuate appositives—most often done with commas but sometimes with parentheses—isn’t difficult, but I see incorrect examples almost every day. The sad thing is that so many of this common appositive punctuation mistakes show up in Amazon book descriptions, websites, book reviews, and pretty much anywhere you find the written word.

Punctuating appositive nouns and phrases is easy once you understand the rules. Click To Tweet

So let’s review definitions, and then I’ll show you how easy it is to correctly punctuate whenever you use an appositive in your writing.

What Is an Appositive?

As a reminder, an appositive is a noun or noun phrase that provides additional information. Like other types of modifiers, an appositive can be essential (restrictive) or nonessential (nonrestrictive) to the sentence. Removing an essential modifier may cause confusion, but removing a nonessential one still leaves most of the meaning intact.

Essential: My cockatoo Snowflake attacked my computer.

Nonessential: My cockatoo, Snowflake, attacked my computer.

Snowflake’s handiwork the day she decided I was working too much.
Snowflake the Cockatoo

What’s the difference, and why does it matter?

If I had more than one cockatoo, I wouldn’t use a comma—I’d want to make it clear that I’m discussing Snowflake and not another bird. I’m specifically throwing “Snowflake” under the bus (she deserves it, don’t you think?). If I delete her name (the essential modifier), I remove the clue that tells you which bird was the culprit, so I could be referring to one of several birds.

The second example is the one I personally would use because I only have one cockatoo, and her name is Snowflake. If I delete the appositive (her name), which is a nonessential modifier, you still know my only pet cockatoo created some trouble. Continue reading “Are You Making this Common Mistake with Appositives?”

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