ôô

Appositives

A little extra information.

By
Bonnie Mills, Writing for
5-minute read
Episode #141
appositive

Two Examples Explained

So let’s look at Mary’s example of the vocational counselor. It’s going to seem a bit confusing at first, but if you remember the phrase “extra information, extra commas,” then you should be able to get it. In fact, I’ll put up a variety of extra examples at the bottom of this transcript to make it easier.

Anyway, Mary suggested two different ways to express her thought about the vocational counselor. First was “A vocational counselor, Jane Smith, has agreed to help me get a job.” Second was “Vocational counselor, Jane Smith, has agreed to help me get a job.”

The first one, which starts with “A vocational counselor,” is a little tricky because there are two ways to interpret it. The first way is that “Jane Smith” is the subject and you’re giving extra information by telling us what her job is. “A vocational counselor” is therefore an appositive and it’s extra information. If they were in the middle of a sentence, the words “A vocational counselor” would be surrounded by commas, but since the phrase is at the beginning, you put only one comma, after the word “counselor.” The sentence therefore reads “A vocational counselor, Jane Smith has agreed to help me get a job.” You could delete the information about her job and it would still make sense: “Jane Smith has agreed to help me get a job.”

The second way to interpret this first example is that the subject is “A vocational counselor” and the appositive is her name. Then her name is extra information that needs to be surrounded by commas, so the sentence reads “A vocational counselor, Jane Smith, has agreed to help me get a job.” You could delete her name and the sentence would still make sense: “A vocational counselor has agreed to help me get a job.”

So you can see that either way is correct, depending on your interpretation of which is more important: that Jane Smith agreed to help you or that a vocational counselor agreed to help you.

The second vocational counselor example is easier. Thank goodness! Her example was actually incorrect. You can’t say, “Vocational counselor, Jane Smith, has agreed to help me get a job” because in this case the appositive, her name, is essential information. No commas needed. “Vocational counselor Jane Smith” is one job title, as is Inspector Jacques Clouseau of “Pink Panther” fame.

Appositives can be tricky, and commas are always tricky, so when faced with an appositive, you need to ask yourself: “essential or extra?” If the appositive is extra information and can be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence, then you use commas. If it’s essential, then you don’t use commas. Remember that extra information needs extra commas. Be sure to check out some other examples below.

Administrative

This podcast was written by Bonnie Trenga, author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, who blogs at sentencesleuth.blogspot.com, and I'm Mignon Fogarty, the author of the paperback book Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

References

1. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, p. 37.

2. Stilman, A. Grammatically Correct. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2004, pp. 73-5. 

Web extra

Correct sentences

  • A vocational counselor, Jane Smith has agreed to help me get a job. Subject: Jane Smith. Appositive: A vocational counselor (extra information; therefore the comma)
  • A vocational counselor, Jane Smith, has agreed to help me get a job. Subject: A vocational counselor. Appositive: Jane Smith (extra information; therefore the commas)
  • Jane Smith, a vocational counselor, has agreed to help me get a job. Subject: Jane Smith. Appositive: a vocational counselor (extra information; therefore the commas)
  • The vocational counselor, Jane Smith, has agreed to help me get a job. Subject: The vocational counselor. Appositive: Jane Smith (extra information; therefore the commas)
  • Vocational counselor Jane Smith has agreed to help me get a job. Subject: Jane Smith. Appositive: vocational counselor (essential information; therefore no commas)
  • My favorite writer wrote many plays. The writer, William Shakespeare, lived in Elizabethan times. Subject: The writer. Appositive: William Shakespeare (extra information; therefore the commas)
  • The writer William Shakespeare wrote many plays. Subject: The writer. Appositive: William Shakespeare (essential information; therefore no commas)
  • A fine man, my husband tolerates my grammatical tirades. Subject: My husband. Appositive: A fine man (extra information; therefore the comma)
  • My husband, a fine man, tolerates my grammatical tirades. Subject: My husband. Appositive: a fine man (extra information; therefore the commas)

Cite This Article

APA Style

Trenga, B. (2008, October 16) Appositives. Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Retrieved [today's dat, from <https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/appositives>

Chicago Style

Bonnie Trenga, “Appositives,” Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, October 16, 2008, <https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/appositives> (accessed [today's dat).

MLA Style

Trenga, Bonnie. “Appositives.” Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (accessed [today's dat).<https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/appositives>.

 

Pages

About the Author

Bonnie Mills, Writing for Grammar Girl

Bonnie Mills has been a copyeditor since 1996.

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.