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Commas with Appositives

The definition of an appositive is a word or word group that defines or further identifies the noun or noun phrase preceding it.

Rule: When an appositive is essential to the meaning of the noun it belongs to, don’t use commas. When the noun preceding the appositive provides sufficient identification on its own, use commas around the appositive.

Example: Jorge Torres, our senator, was born in California.
Explanation: Our senator is an appositive of the proper noun Jorge Torres. Our senator is surrounded by commas because Jorge Torres is a precise identifier.

Example: Our pediatrician, André Wilson, was born in California.
Explanation: Our pediatrician is still a relatively precise identifier so André Wilson is not considered essential.

Example:
CEO Julie Minsky will be our featured speaker.
Explanation: Julie Minsky is necessary to help identify CEO, so no commas are used.

Example: Julie Minsky, CEO, will be our featured speaker.
Explanation: Julie Minsky is a precise identifier so the appositive is surrounded by commas.

Example: The girl who received a scholarship is my sister.
Explanation: The girl by itself is not sufficient information.

Example: My sister, who received a scholarship, will attend Harvard.
Explanation: My sister is a relatively precise identifier.

Example: My friend Harvey is an animal lover.
Explanation: My friend is not a precise identifier because one may have numerous friends.

Example:
Harvey, my friend, loves animals.
Explanation: Harvey is a precise identifier.

Pop Quiz
Add commas if needed.
1. Ella my little sister will escort you to your seat.
2. My little sister Ella will escort you to your seat. Hint: You have two younger sisters.

 
Pop Quiz Answers:

1. Ella, my little sister, will escort you to your seat.
2. My little sister Ella will escort you to your seat. CORRECT. No commas if you have two (or more) younger sisters.

Posted on Sunday, September 2, 2007, at 7:11 pm


55 Comments on Commas with Appositives

55 Responses to “Commas with Appositives”

  1. Ed Hirsch says:

    Question about comma placement in the following sentence:

    “He paused and in the stillness of the moment his countenance glowed brightly.”

    What do you think of:

    “He paused and, in the stillness of the moment, his countenance glowed brightly”?

    Thank you very much!

    • We would include the commas since the phrase in the stillness of the moment interrupts the sentence flow and is nonessential, but adds more information to the meaning of the sentence.

      • Lauren says:

        You acutally need the comma after “and,” becuase it is a coordinating conjunction and connecting two independant clauses. Then since “in the stillness of the moment” is two introductory prepositional phrases there would be a comma after “moment,” as well.

        • The comma may be omitted if the independent clauses are short. Therefore, we may write either: He paused and his countenance glowed brightly. OR He paused, and his countenance glowed brightly. Since the nonessential prepositional phrase in the stillness of the moment needs to be set off by commas, it is cleaner to write and easier to read He paused and, in the stillness of the moment, his countenance glowed brightly than writing He paused, and, in the stillness of the moment, his countenance glowed brightly.

        • Jenny says:

          In regard to Lauren’s comment, you mean BEFORE “and”.

  2. Kaja says:

    This is very helpful. Thank you. If I were to write “Brett lives in Denver with his wife Leena and three sons.” should I use commas around ‘Leena’? I had always thought that, since Leena is Brett’s only wife, there would be no comma. If I read the rule above correctly however, then there should be commas. Thank you for clarifying.

    • Unless Brett is a polygamist, the term his wife is a precise identifier. Since “Leena” is not essential to the meaning of his wife, use commas around the appositive.

      Brett lives in Denver with his wife, Leena, and three sons.

      • Pama says:

        Hello,

        First of all, I would like to thank you for this wonderful explanation. I have a question:

        “Brett lives in Denver with his wife, Leena, and three sons.”

        If so then this means Brett lives with: his wife, Leena, and three sons (a total household of 6 people).

        Am I correct?

        Kaja did point out that Leena is Brett’s wife. Shouldn’t it be no comma after wife?

        Grammar’s complicated!

        Cheers =D

        • That’s a good observation, Pama. Your comment demonstrates how it’s possible to follow all the rules perfectly yet the exact meaning of the sentence is still unclear. Rule 11 in the “Commas” section of Grammarbook.com states, “If something or someone is sufficiently identified, the description following it is considered nonessential and should be surrounded by commas.” Since Brett only has one wife, the word “Leena” is nonessential to the meaning of the word “wife.” Further, as Rule 1 states, “To avoid confusion, use commas to separate words and word groups with a series of three or more.” In theory, this sentence could be interpreted exactly as you did, with the series of three being his wife, Leena, and three sons. Therefore, depending on whether Brett’s wife is named Leena or whether Leena is some other member of the household, this sentence needs restructuring in order to be clear. Here are three possibilities (you can probably construct more):
          1. Brett lives in Denver with his three sons and his wife, Leena.
          2. Brett lives in Denver with his wife, three sons, and his cousin Leena.
          3. Brett lives in Denver with his wife, Delores; three sons; and his cousin Leena. (Rule 4 of Semicolons: Use the semicolon to separate units of a series when one or more of the units contain commas.)

  3. Shadam says:

    Do I need commas in the following,

    Shadam will be married in her mother Sarah’s gold wedding band.

    The scarf, given to Shadam by her father, Richard, will also be used.

    • Let’s take your two sentences separately. The rule states, “When an appositive is essential to the meaning of the noun it belongs to, don’t use commas. When the noun preceding the appositive provides sufficient identification on its own, use commas around the appositive.” If Shadam only refers to one person as mother (i.e., no stepmother, adoptive mother, etc.), the word Sarah is not essential to her mother, therefore use commas around the appositive. However, complicating this sentence is the possessive noun followed by an appositive, such that some may ask should the sentence be written as, “Shadam will be married in her mother’s, Sarah’s, gold wedding band”? The best guidance we can find on this is to add ‘s only to the appositive, as you have done, and also drop the comma that would normally follow the appositive phrase.

      Shadam will be married in her mother, Sarah’s gold wedding band. (Although I doubt you would get much argument if you wrote, Shadam will be married in her mother, Sarah’s, gold wedding band.)
      Or, you could remove any doubts by rewriting the sentence as, Shadam will be married in the gold wedding band of her mother, Sarah.

      In the second sentence, the phrase given to Shadam by her father is essential to the word scarf since it identifies that particular scarf. Therefore no comma is required there; however, if Shadam only has one father, the word Richard is not essential to her father. A comma is used around the appositive.

      The scarf given to Shadam by her father, Richard, will also be used.

  4. Kelly says:

    Are the commas correct in the following sentences?

    Charles went to town with his best friend, Mike.

    Aided by their friend, Janice, the two friends built a treehouse.

    • Our Rule 11 of Commas says, “If something or someone is sufficiently identified, the description following it is considered nonessential and should be surrounded by commas.” In your first sentence, the term best friend is a precise identifier and the name Mike is nonessential, therefore you are correct to use a comma. In your second example, however, the word friend is not a precise identifier because one may have numerous friends. The name Janice is essential to the meaning of the word friend, since she is not their only friend. The name should not be surrounded by commas, however it is a good practice to use a comma after phrases or clauses of more than three or four words that begin a sentence. After short phrases or clauses, the comma is optional.

      Charles went to town with his best friend, Mike.
      Aided by their friend Janice, the two friends built a treehouse.
      Aided by a friend I built a treehouse.

  5. Attica says:

    I think the sentence with my little sister can be both with and without the commas. If I have two little sisters, and one of them is called Ella, then the comma shouldn’t be there before the name. However, if have only one sister, then the comma should be there. Don’t you think so?

    • In the first pop quiz question, the appositive is my little sister. The noun preceding the appositive, Ella, provides sufficient identification on its own. Therefore, commas are used no matter how many sisters you have. In the second quiz question, my little sister would be sufficient if you only had one little sister. You could use commas in that case. No commas are required if you have more than one little sister. Therefore, the second quiz question could have two acceptable answers. Thank you for pointing this out. We will make the change to this grammar tip.

  6. Mohammed says:

    Thank you very much for all information.There is a question in my mind I hope you help me answering it.
    It is about how could we decide whether this is a subject only or appositive I am not talking about appositive with commas because it is clear enough especially in TOEFL.

  7. Anwar says:

    Can you define this is singular or plural sentence? I’m so confused because of it.

    “A lady, along with her friends, … having dinner with the Mayor.”

    Thank a lot for your comment.

    • When the subject is separated from the verb by words such as along with, as well as, besides, or not, ignore these expressions when determining whether to use a singular or plural verb.

      A lady, along with her friends, is having dinner with the mayor. (Note that “mayor” is not capitalized.)

  8. Alexandra says:

    Do you have an example of a kid friendly examples for commas with appositives?

    Thank You in advance,
    Alexandra

    • Examples:
      Mrs. Torres, my teacher, was at the music program.
      My best friend, Sam, played the clarinet.
      His youngest sister, who played the piano, is only in first grade.
      My dog, a toy fox terrier, is well-behaved.

  9. Meep says:

    What about state appositives?

  10. stephen says:

    When are appositives separated by commas? Only when they’re nonessential?

  11. Laura says:

    Is it proper to set off an appositive describing a question with commas, too?

    Example:

    Where do you see yourself in five years?, the first question on the application, made her panic. She didn’t know.

    • Although some writers would follow the question mark with a comma in your sentence, most editors would drop the comma and go with just the question mark. It would be advisable to rewrite the sentence to avoid this quandary:

      The first question on the application was, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It made her panic. She didn’t know.

  12. Becky says:

    Is the comma usage after the word “and” correct in this situation?

    This enhancement allows Department Managers to automatically approve new item requisition requests within Department requisitions: this includes the use of separate menu requests and, when approved, the addition of auto numbering new item request when added to the Item Master.

  13. Dara says:

    Here’s a question about the use of commas in this sentence:

    Is this correct?

    “The bathtub is overflowing!” my youngest sister, Sheila, yelled.

  14. Azka says:

    No, it’s: “The bathtub is overflowing!” Sheila, my youngest sister, yelled.

    • Dara’s sentence is correct. My youngest sister is a precise identifier, since one can only have one youngest sister. Therefore, the appositive is surrounded by commas. Your sentence is also correct.

  15. Lindsey says:

    December, 2014

    Could you please clarify if this is correct?

  16. Angi says:

    What is the correct way to write this sentence?

    In the article, “Saving Penguins,” thousand of teen-agers rushed to help 40,000 penguins.

    In the article “Saving Penguins” thousands of teenagers rushed to help 40,000 penguins.

    • The plural form thousands is correct in your sentence. Also, our Rule 10 of Commas says, “When starting a sentence with a dependent clause, use a comma after it.” Therefore, write the following:
      In the article “Saving Penguins,” thousands of teenagers rushed to help 40,000 penguins.

  17. Emily says:

    How about appositives in a series preceding “and?” I have been taught that we no longer should separate a series with a comma preceding an “and.” The applicable examples above do not reflect this newer model since they include a comma before the “and” such as:

    “Brett lives in Denver with his wife, Leena, and three sons.”

    If following the new rule of not using a comma in a series before “and,” this would be instructive and allow the comma to serve as the appositive modifier (reflecting Leena and wife as the same person) instead of the identification of an additional and separate person, Leena, when written without the second comma which is unneeded in a series.

    Here is my question. Is the second comma essential for an appositive when an “and” follows it to separate distinct items/thoughts?

    For example, “The dessert is made of bananaberry, a patented blended of bananas and blueberries and features a dollop of whipped cream.”

    It would seem without the comma after “blueberries”, the whipped cream could be considered part of the patented blend (albeit in a poorly worded sentence,) which is not accurate. Or does the “and” alone separate the items adequately?

    • There is no “new rule” of not using a comma in a series before and. In our Rule 1 of Commas, we recommend using it in order to avoid confusion. We also acknowledge that most newspapers and magazines drop this comma in a simple series.

      Whether the first example sentence is written “Brett lives in Denver with his wife, Leena, and three sons,” or as “Brett lives in Denver with his wife, Leena and three sons,” we could be confused as to whether Brett lives with four people or five, whether Leena is his wife, whether he lives with his three sons or Leena’s three sons, etc. As we mention in our comment of January 11, 2012, we can follow all the rules perfectly yet the exact meaning of a sentence can still be unclear. That’s why we suggested some alternatives for rewriting the sentence to make it clear whether Leena was Brett’s wife or a separate person. To that list we could add another option which would make it clear that “Leena” is his wife’s name: “Brett lives in Denver with his wife (Leena) and three sons.” Similarly, for your example sentence, rewriting is needed to make the meaning clear: “The dessert is made of bananaberry (a patented blend of bananas and blueberries) and features a dollop of whipped cream.”

  18. Ashlynn says:

    How about when we have a possessive noun following the appositive?

    Example:

    Ralphie is my sister, Sharon’s, dog.

    Is that written correctly? “My sister” is a precise identifier (let’s assume the speaker has just one sister), so I can see why we’d offset “Sharon” in its singular form. But, what about in a possessive case?

    • The possessive appositive, Sharon’s, is set off by commas. While your sentence is written correctly, it makes for an awfully awkward construction, and “the dog belonging to my sister, Sharon, …” would be preferable.

  19. Terry McClain says:

    I look foreward to serving you dinner.
    Is ‘you’ the direct object or is ‘dinner’ the direct object? After determining whichever of the two words is the direct object, what part of speach is the other?

    T. McClain

  20. Sara R. says:

    I would like to ask you a question about a sentence. Which would be the correct way to write this?

    Andrew’s, the dead man, parents were fighting a custody battle.
    Andrew’s, the dead man’s, parents were fighting a custody battle.

    (Originally, parentheses were used instead of an appositive.)

    • You would be better off recasting the sentence; there should be no obligation to go with this awful combination of words. The fix is simple:
      The parents of Andrew, the dead man, were fighting a custody battle.

  21. Rachel C. says:

    In 1988, Indian-British author, Salman Rushdie, published a book called The Satanic Verses, which seemed to be a satire taunting modern Islam.

    I am wondering if my comma usage is correct in this sentence.

    Thank you!!!

    • When an appositive is essential to the meaning of the noun it belongs to, don’t use commas. Salman Rushdie is necessary to help identify Indian-British author. Book titles should be italicized.

      In 1988, Indian-British author Salman Rushdie published a book called The Satanic Verses, which seemed to be a satire taunting modern Islam.

  22. Olga says:

    Good day!
    I have a question regarding a next sentence:
    An above average student and talented musician John made his family proud.

    My colleague has put a one comma before the name John, explaining that “an above average student and talented musician ” is a nonessential appositive and should be separated by comma. But I didn’t agree with it and my logic, that “John” is essential appositive and that’s why we shouldn’t put comma before it.
    Who is right in this case? Could you be so kind and give me the answer for this question, please.
    Thank you!

    • Your sentence begins with a nonessential phrase, requiring a comma: An above-average student and talented musician, John made his family proud.
      A different construction could have been: John, an above-average student and talented musician, made his family proud.

      • Olga says:

        But John is essential appositive word and we don’t need to put comma before or after it! This sentence very similar with: my older brother Dean can’t do it. (If I have couple older brothers). If we consider “my older brother” like a nonessential phrase so we need to put a comma after it. But it’s not correct… or I’m wrong?

        • The crux of the sentence is “John made his family proud.” That sentence can stand on its own. Anything else is added info, hence nonessential. All nonessential info requires commas.

          • Olga says:

            So in my example “My older brother Dean can’t do it” we need to put comma after “my older brother”? (accordingly the same logic)

          • No commas are needed if you have two (or more) older brothers. Please see Rules 11 and 12 of Commas to help you distinguish between something or someone who is sufficiently identified and nonessential clauses and phrases.

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