Appositives: Renaming Words and Other Terms

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07 November, 2019

Imagine you want to improve your writing skills. Perhaps you would like to take an English test or use English in a business email.

Today on Everyday Grammar, we

will talk about something that could help you: appositives.

We will explain the grammar rules behind appositives and demonstrate how to use them in sentences.

Let us begin with a few definitions.

Appositive definition

An appositive is a word or group of words that renames something else.

An appositive is often a noun or noun phrase that helps explain or identify another noun or a pronoun.

Take this sentence, for example:

My best friend, Ahmed, studies English literature.

The subject of the sentence is my best friend. The name Ahmed is an appositive. It adds information to the sentence.

What is important is that the sentence is grammatically correct without the appositive.

So, our example without the appositive would read:

My best friend studies English literature.

Another example

Now, let us consider a more complex example.

Imagine you are reading a crime novel. Perhaps the book has the following lines.

Police questioned the next suspect, the victim's ex-wife.

In this example, the victim's ex-wife is the appositive. The words give readers more information about the next suspect.

If the sentence did not have an appositive, it would have been written this way:

Police questioned the next suspect.

Appositives can introduce a sentence

Martha Kolln and Robert Funk wrote a famous book on English grammar. In it, they note that if an appositive renames the subject of a sentence, it can introduce the same sentence.

Kolln and Funk say the following description, by Michael D. Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman, is a good example of an introductory series of appositives. It is about epithets, or insulting terms, that people used to describe the Vikings of northern Europe.

"Ravagers, despoilers, pagans, heathens – such epithets pretty well summed up the Vikings for those who lived in the British Isles during medieval times."

The nouns ravagers, despoilers, pagans and heathens are all epithets, the subject of the sentence.

The writers could have left out the list of nouns. Instead, they could have begun the sentence simply with the words epithets such as, or such epithets.

Why are appositives important?

You might be asking yourself why this discussion is important.

The reason is this: using appositives correctly is one of the best ways to improve your writing style. Appositives can help writers change the rhythm or order of a sentence. In other words, appositives help make sentences more interesting.

Think back to our first example:

My best friend, Ahmed, studies English literature.

If you were to write the example as two separate sentences, it might be something like this:

My best friend studies English literature. My friend's name is Ahmed.

These sentences are grammatically correct. But they are repetitive. In other words, they are less interesting to read.

What can you do?

The next time you are reading, try to find examples of appositives. Ask yourself why the writer might have chosen to use them.

When you practice writing in English – perhaps for a test or business purposes – try to use appositives in certain places. They will help make your writing smooth and clear – if you use them correctly!

We will leave you with a famous example. In his book "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples," Winston Churchill wrote the following words about Britain's Queen Victoria.

High devotion to her royal task, domestic virtues, evident sincerity of nature, a piercing and sometime disconcerting truthfulness – all these qualities of the Queen's had long impressed themselves upon the mind of her subjects.

Can you identify the appositive? Can you identify the subject of the sentence? Write to us in the Comments Section of our website.

I'm Anne Ball.

And I'm John Russell.

John Russell wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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Words in This Story

grammar – n. the study of words and their uses and relations in sentences

ex- prefix meaning former

introduce – v. to lead to or present

sum upphrasal verb to describe or show the most important parts or qualities of (someone or something) in a brief or simple way

medieval adj. of or relating to Europe's Middle Ages

practicev. to work at repeatedly so as to become skilled

devotion n. a feeling of strong love or loyalty

virtue – n. morally good behavior

sincerity n. having or showing true feelings that are expressed in an honest way

disconcerting – adj. unnerving or troubling; concerning

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