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Apposition is a grammatical construction in which two elements, normally noun phrases, are placed side by side, with one element serving to identify the other in a different way. The two elements are said to be in apposition. One of the elements is called the appositive, although its identification requires consideration of how the elements are used in a sentence.[citation needed]

For example, in the two sentences below, 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. It is derived from 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. This 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 nurse by training, ...", it is necessary to pause before the parenthetical modification "a nurse 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, and 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.[1] The sentences below use non-restrictive appositives.

  • Alice SmithP, my friendA, likes jelly beans. - The fact that Alice is my friend was not necessary to identify her.
  • I visited CanadaP, a beautiful countryA. - The appositive 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 many 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 form.[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.[citation needed]

  • 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 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.


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.
  • John and Bob, both friends of mine, are starting a band.
  • Alexander the Great, the Macedonian conqueror of Persia, was one of the most successful military commanders of the ancient world.
  • Dean Martin, a very popular singer, will be performing at the Sands Hotel.
  • You are better than anyone, anyone I've ever met.

A kind of appositive phrase is the false title, as in "Noted biologist Jane Smith has arrived.", where 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.
  • You are simply the best, better than all the rest.

Appositive genitive

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

  • 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. This has also been invoked as an explanation for the double genitive: a friend of mine.[2]
    • The ending -'s as in "In Dublin's Fair City". This is uncommon.
  • In classical Greek:
    • "Genitive of explanation" as in ὑὸς μέγα χρῆμα (hyòs méga chrêma), "a monster (great affair) of a boar" (Histories of Herodotus, 1.36);[3]
  • In Japanese:
  • In Biblical Hebrew:

See also


  1. "Commas: Some Common Problems", 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, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1956 Perseus Digital Library
  4. §9.5.3h (p. 153), Bruce K. Waltke and M. O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990. ISBN 0-931464-31-5


  • A comprehensive treatment of apposition in English is given in §§17.65–93 (pages 1300–1320) and elsewhere in: Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, Jan Svartvik (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London and New York: Longman. ISBN 0-582-51734-6.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • On the apposition vs. double subject issue in Romanian, see: Appositions Versus Double Subject Sentences – What Information the Speech Analysis Brings to a Grammar Debate, by Horia-Nicolai Teodorescu and Diana Trandabăţ. In: Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Springer Berlin, Heidelberg, ISSN 0302-9743, Volume 4629/2007, "Text, Speech and Dialogue", pp. 286–293.

External links