Appositives

  1. An appositive is a creature that is both a nominal and a nominal modifier. Like a nominal, it can inhabit any noun slot, and it reanmes (is coreferential with) the noun whose slot it shares. Like a modifier, it qualifies, identifies, or limits a nominal.

  2. An appositive expresses its dual nature by occupying the SAME noun slot as the nominal it modifies and renames. We illustrate the dual function of the appositive by putting it in parentheses after the noun it modifies.

  3. When the appositive is itself a noun phrase, it is diagramed as a plain old NP. Any modifiers (determiners, adjectives etc.) of the head noun of the appositive go within the parentheses.

    My Siamese cat, the big dummy, has a sweet and lovely disposition.

    Elspeth considers her Siamese cat Buddy a sweet and lovely dummy.

    Elspeth would do anything for her cat Buddy.

  4. Because the appositive is coreferential with the NP it modifies, you can test to see whether a nominal is appositive by taking out either the first NP or the appositive NP. The result should be a sentence with essentially the same meaning as the sentence with the appositive:

    A. Elspeth would do anything for her cat.
    B. Elspeth would do anything for Buddy.

    (You do, of course have to bring in your knowledge of the real world to know that her cat and Buddy refer to the same animal).

  5. Like other modifiers, appositives can be restrictive (identifying) or non-restrictive (commenting), a distinction that is made clear through the use of commas.

    A. Elspeth would do anything for her cat Buddy. (restrictive; implies that E. has more than one cat)
    B. Elspeth would do anything for her cat, Buddy. (non-restrictive; we donšt know how many cats E. has)
    Note that the diagrams for each version are the same.

  6. Other types of nominals, especially expletive that clauses and infinitives can be used appositively. Usually they occur as appositive to a "dummy subject" it in statements of "fact" or opinions. The rhetorical effect is to delay, and thus emphasize, the real subject, the nominal. Again, the appositive goes in parentheses, and again, it (the dummy subjec) can be removed without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.

    It is a fact that the earth is a planet.

    This sentence has essentially the same meaning as: That the earth is a planet is a fact.

    It is a shame that you hate spinach.

    Again, the meaning is essentially the same as: That you hate spinach is a shame.

    It is shocking for you to say such an unkind thing.

    Once again, this is another way of saying: For you to say such an unkind thing is shocking.


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Comments to: Sara Kimball
Last updated January, 2001