While many people may not know what an appositive is, clients use them often in the documents we see on our server. This week’s in-depth tip, last seen here in 2004, is on the appositive and how to use it. We use as our guide the venerable Chicago Manual of Style.
A word, abbreviation, phrase, or clause that is in apposition to a noun is set off by commas if it is nonrestrictive – that is, omittable, containing supplementary rather than essential information. If it is restrictive – essential to the noun it belongs to – no commas should appear.
- The yoga instructor, Stella, posed for photos.
- Mortimer Schnerd, chair of the termite eradication committee, spoke first.
- Howdy Doody, Mortimer’s brother, then delivered a rather wooden speech to the crowd.
- Tulabell’s husband, Rockford, had been a student of Big Jim McShane’s. (In formal prose, “Tulabell’s husband Rockford had …” is acceptable.)
- My older brother, Snagglefoot, taught me to waterski.
- My sister Wahini surfed the North Shore last winter. (I have two sisters.)
- Margrave’s movie Ski Florida If You Can! is in theatres now. (Margrave made several movies.)
A problem arises when a proper name includes a comma before the final element, as in “the [Slobovian] Constitution Act, 1798” or “California State University, Bumbleridge.” Because such a comma is part of the name and not part of the surrounding sentence, a second comma is not, strictly speaking, required when the name appears in the middle of a clause. But its absence may be sufficiently disturbing to most readers to suggest recasting the sentence (as in the first example below), slipping in a mildly illegal comma (as in the second), or adding a nonrestrictive clause or phrase after the proper name (as in the third).
- the 1798 Constitution Act was hailed …
- California State University, Bumbleridge, has a waterski team …
- California State University, Bumbleridge, often called CSUB, has a waterski team …