Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Basics: The Appositive

Today we're hitting upon one of my biggest-biggest-biggest pet peeves--namely, unnecessary commas around single-word appositives.

But let's start at the beginning.

What's an appositive?

An appositive is a noun or pronoun used with another noun or pronoun to identify or explain it.

Appositives are easy to find because they ALWAYS directly follow the noun or pronoun they're identifying or explaining.  You use them all the time, even if you never knew what they were called.


Mrs. Twitch, the tenth grade science teacher, has a blue wart on her chin.

In the above sentence, the tenth grade science teacher identifies Mrs. Twitch.  It's an appositive.  And because it is made up of more than one word, it needs to be set off by commas.  ALWAYS.

My dog Stinkypaw caught a flying raccoon.

Here comes the pet peeve:  NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF WRITERS WILL UNABASHEDLY PUT COMMAS AROUND "Stinkypaw."  And it's WRONG.  The commas are totally unnecessary and serve nothing more than to clutter the sentence.

Look how crowded this is:

My dog, Stinkypaw, caught a flying raccoon.   <------ AAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!

*composes self*

I don't honestly know what the compulsion is among writerkind to put commas around single-word appositives.  And it's everywhere--newspaper articles, blog posts, published novels.

Take note.  After a while, it'll pop out at you.  And, hopefully, annoy you!

More examples:

Ferdinand, my husband, is a bull fighter.  (CORRECT)
My husband, Ferdinand, is a bull fighter.  (INCORRECT! Ferdinand is a single word--no commas needed.)
My husband Ferdinand is a bull fighter.  (CORRECT)

Sheepy, Shiela's pet sheep, is sheepish.  (CORRECT)
Shiela's pet sheep, Sheepy, is sheepish.  (INCORRECT!  Sheepy is a single word--no commas needed.)
Shiela's pet sheep Sheepy is sheepish.  (CORRECT)

Got it? Awesome!


  1. Oops, I didn't know this! (Or maybe I'll learn it in school, but I haven't yet.) So thanks for this post!

  2. I agree with the sentiments of those who posted before me...


  3. But you guys, it's okay!! Now YOU KNOW!! :)

  4. Actually, that's not right. The decision about whether or not to put commas around your dog's name depends on how many dogs you have. If you have three dogs, then you need to include the dog's name to indicate which one you're talking about—therefore, no commas. If you have one dog and include his name anyway, then you put commas. It comes down to defining/non-defining (or restrictive/non-restrictive) information, not the number of words.

  5. Miss Ginny Tea (love the name!) --

    Two things: Not all restrictive clauses are appositives, and names (as appositives) are always restrictive. Technically, restrictive appositives that are names don't need commas even if it's a two- or three-word name.

    Such as, "My daughter Bertha Lee is seven years old." (No commas = correct.)

    Whether or not you have one dog or seventeen dogs doesn't have anything to do with whether or not the dog's name, as an appositive, is restrictive. It IS restrictive. And it's one word. So it doesn't need commas.

    So, yes. Without throwing unwieldy terms around, I simplified it to "one word." Because it's almost always a name (proper noun) and it's ALWAYS restrictive. Which means no commas. :)

  6. Hmm. Well, that's good to know. I'll have to pay attention and avoid doing that now. I've stopped using "alright" after the time you mentioned that was no good... So I must be learning something from these. :) *loves*

  7. Great tips. My 5th grades have trouble say an appositive so we named it Anna Positive.

  8. Great tips here! A really helpful site for writers of any age.