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This article is about the grammatical construction. For other uses, see Apposition (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with dislocations, an apposition-like structure whose elements are not placed side by side.

Apposition is a grammatical construction in which two elements, normally noun phrases, are placed side by side, with one element serving to define or modify the other. When this device is used, the two elements are said to be in apposition. For example, in the phrase "my friend Alice", the name "Alice" is in apposition to "my friend".

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[edit]

Apposition can either be non-restrictive or restrictive depending on whether the apposition merely adds to the information of something that has already been identified or completes the identification of something.

In a non-restrictive appositive, the second element parenthetically modifies the first without changing its scope, and is not crucial to the meaning of the sentence. In a restrictive appositive, the second element limits or clarifies the foregoing one in some crucial way. For example, in the phrase "my friend Alice", "Alice" specifies to which friend the speaker is referring and is therefore restrictive. On the other hand, in the above example: "my wife, a nurse by training, ...", the parenthetical "a nurse by training" does not narrow down the subject, but rather provides additional information about the subject; namely, "my wife". In English, non-restrictive appositives are typically preceded or set off by commas, while restrictive appositives are not set off by commas.[1]

Not all restrictive clauses are appositives. For example, Alice in "Bill's friend Alice ..." is an appositive noun; Alice in "Bill's friend, whose name is Alice, ..." is not an appositive but, rather, the predicate of a restrictive clause. The main difference between the two is that the second explicitly states what an apposition would omit: that the friend in question is named Alice.[vague][clarification needed] If the meaning is clear "Bill's friend Alice" can be used ("Bill was here with his friend. [other remarks] Bill's friend Alice...").[citation needed]

The same words can change from restrictive to non-restrictive (or vice versa) depending on the speaker and context. Consider the phrase "my brother Nathan". If the speaker has more than one brother, the name Nathan is restrictive as it clarifies which brother. If, however, the speaker has only one brother, then the brother's name is parenthetical and the correct way to write it is: "my brother, Nathan, ...". If it is not known which is the case, it is safer to omit the commas: "John's brother Nathan" is acceptable whether or not John has more brothers, unlike "John's brother, Nathan".[citation needed]


In the following examples, the appositive phrases are offset in boldface:

  • 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.

A kind of appositive phrase is the "false title" (an informal title), as in "United States Deputy Marshal Jim Hall said Tuesday that fatally wounded Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Matthews told him that fugitive tax protester Gordon W. Kahl was dead before other law enforcement officials started shooting." The use of the false titles is not uncontroversial among journalists: New York Times reporter called the false title "[A] tool of style that deliberately confuses or deceives the reader" and his colleague Theodor Bernstein referred to it as "Awkward, ridiculous, and bogus as a three-dollar bill."[2]

Appositive phrases can also take the form of dictionary-like definitions. This example is taken from the book 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans:

  • No one – not a single person out of a thousand [elderly interviewed because of their wisdom expertise] – said that to be happy you should try and work as hard as you can to make money to buy the things you want.
  • No one – not a single person – said it's important to be at least as wealthy as the people around you, and if you have more than they do it's real success.
  • No one – not a single person – said you should choose your work based on your desired future earning power.[3]

Another example is in the refrain of the song "The Best", recorded by Bonnie Tyler in 1988 and by Tina Turner in 1992:

  • You're simply the best, better than all the rest
  • Better than anyone, anyone I've ever met

Apposition can also be used for names other than people:

  • Finland, the land of a thousand lakes

Appositive genitive[edit]

In several languages, the same syntax which 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.[4]
    • 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);[5]
  • In Japanese:
  • In Biblical Hebrew:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Commas: Some Common Problems", Princeton Writing Program, Princeton University, 1999,
  2. ^ Reed, Roy (July 25, 1987). "Titles That Aren't Titles". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-23 . According to that site, a version of the article appeared in the New York Times, July 5, 1987, p. 31. The sentence is quoted from the Arkansas Gazette.
  3. ^ Brody, Jane (2011). 30 Lessons for Living. Penguin Group. p. 57. ISBN 1594630844. 
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ §1322 (pages 317–318), Herbert Weir Smyth, revised by Gordon M. Messing, Greek Grammar, Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1956 Perseus Digital Library
  6. ^ §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. 
  • 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.

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