Appositively yours

Categories: max syntax
Well, it's not scary, but it may be a bit obscure. Let's not jump ahead of ourselves here.

Appositives are nouns, noun phrases, or noun clauses that rename another noun immediately preceding or following. There is a great, succinct one-page overview from Robin L. Simmons.

Appositives, nouns that rename other nouns, are super useful. In the sentence that begins this paragraph, the appositive "nouns that rename other nouns" is an appositive of the word "appositive." It is another way of saying "Appositives are nouns that . . ." Using appositives can help condense sentences.

So instead of writing "The car is an old Saab," I can write "The car, an old Saab, . . ." and off we go.

How about those commas, tho'? Now it gets interesting.

Consider the sentences "Harry was my granddad" and "He lived in New York City." We can condense them thusly: "My granddad Harry lived in New York City."

 Do we use commas around the appositive Harry or not? Why?
The answer depends on whether the appositive "Harry" renames my granddad or selects him out of a larger group. That question is sometimes phrased as whether "Harry" is essential or nonessential, or restrictive or nonrestrictive.

 If it's renaming and I have only one granddad, I need to use commas: It's "My granddad, Harry, lived in New York City."

But like other humans, I have two granddads, and so knowing which one is essential to the meaning. Thus, no commas set it off. It is glued to the sentence, inseparably.

Thus, I can say "My granddad Harry lived in New York City, but my granddad Joe lived in Westchester." I use no commas. The names are essential to selecting each individual out of the group.

 Consider this sentence: "Oddly enough, both my granddads, Joe and Harry, were born in New York City." Joe and Harry = my granddads. Those two labels rename "my granddads" and so give the reader more, but nonessential, information. I could drop that info out of the sentence and it would still be accurate.
Whew! We'll look more at restrictive and nonrestrictive use of commas next week. And we'll look at "that" and "which" and their relationship to essential and restrictive clauses as well. That should be a fun one, which should undoubtedly raise more controversy.
Message Edited by Ellen_Scordato on 05-27-2009 05:39 PM
by Par4course on ‎05-28-2009 11:18 PM
Wow!  I'm going to print this out for my class.  Believe it or not, appositives are considered a 4th grade learning standard (in my district and state).  It's taken some explaining...and they just need to identify them, not worry about the commas...but this will really come in handy.  Perfect timing, as we have state tests coming up in the next week.  Thanks!
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