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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 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 identifying it depends on 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, and the appositive is identified with boldface:

  • 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[edit]

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 examples below identify each restrictive appositive with boldface and its phrase in apposition with italics.

  • My friend Alice Smith likes jelly beans. (I have many friends, but I am restricting my statement to the one named Alice Smith.)
  • He likes the television show The Simpsons. (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 examples below identify each non-restrictive appositive with boldface and its phrase in apposition with italics.

  • Alice Smith, my friend, likes jelly beans. (The fact that Alice is my friend was not necessary to identify her.)
  • I visited Canada, a beautiful country. (The appositive is not needed to identify Canada.)
  • The first to arrive at the house, she unlocked the front door.

The same phrase can be a restrictive appositive in one context and a non-restrictive appositive in another:

  • My brother Nathan is here. (Restrictive: I have many brothers, and the one named Nathan is here.)
  • My brother, Nathan, 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 use the restrictive form.[citation needed] In the example above, the restrictive, first form is still correct even if there is only one brother.

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]


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.

External links[edit]