Monday, May 2, 2011

Grammar ABCs: A is for Appositive

I have forgotten the terms for many of the things I do instinctively in my writing or editing. So, defining grammar terms will be a good review for me as well.

An appositive is a noun or a noun phrase that identifies or renames another noun in a sentence.

Here is an example: The team chose two new members, Jake and Brad. (Jake and Brad are the same as “new members.”)

An appositive phrase can modify as well: Sorrel, a coppery red, is one the most common equine colors. (“coppery red” identifies sorrel. And “color” is also an appositive, describing sorrel.)

More examples: The Otis Elevator Company, the world’s oldest and biggest elevator manufacturer, claims that its products carry the equivalent of the world’s population every five days.

Appositives can be essential information or extra information. Only appositives that are extra information are set aside by commas. Example: The teacher, Mrs. Smith, handed out the tests. (Mrs. Smith is set aside by commas because we don’t need to know her name to get the gist of the sentence. “Teacher Smith handed out the tests” can also be considered an appositive, not needing commas.

So now we know what to call  those descriptive phrases we put in our stories so often without a second thought.

What are some other terms for things we do instinctively without thinking about what they are called? How about metaphor, simile, dependent and independent clauses? Let's have some fun with defining those and others you can think of.


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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  1. Thanks for filling us in on that, Heidi. I didn't know the name for it or exactly how it worked. Something to keep in mind, among all the other grammar rules. (g)

    Morgan Mandel

  2. Interesting, Heidi ... I just wish this stuff would stick in my head. BTW, here's a question: I noticed you ended the last sentence with a preposition ... it was pounded into my feeble cranium not to do this ... and for some reason it stuck (don't ask me why). However, we all know how awkward it can sound when you don't ... especially in dialogue ... what is the official grammatical ruling on this?

  3. Christopher: That "rule" is one that is commonly broken these days, especially in fiction. If you write that sentence properly, it sounds very stilted. As Winston Churchill once said: "From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put."

  4. Read this post earlier without leaving a comment and came back hoping to find more definitions.

    I just looked up simile and this is what I found: A simile is a figure of speech that says that one thing is like another different thing. We can use similes to make descriptions more emphatic or vivid. I don't think I have used this one either on purpose or not. Have you?

  5. Not that I ever adhered to that rule anyway ... but now I can ignore it in good conscience ... thanks, Heidi.

  6. Neat. I learned a new word--a new peg to hang ideas from. Thanks.

  7. Hmm, I've vague memories of hearing the word somewhere before ... and now I know the meaning.

    Love learning knew things.

  8. Interestingly, one of my favorite classes in college was an advanced grammar in which we thoroughly diagrammed sentences. I thought of it as math for those who love words. But.....I've since forgotten much of what I used to know.

    At this point in my life, I'm adjusting from teaching literature to the writing of it. Two very different things.

    Thanks for the official word on ending sentences with prepositions.

  9. Barbara, I remember diagramming sentences in elementary school and loved doing it. I wonder whether I could still do it!


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