What is/how to find an appositive phrase?

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Answered by: Kaitlyn, An Expert in the Grammar and Composition - General Category
Appositive phrases are like the “stunt doubles” of English. They act as the same person, doing the job the original couldn’t. Take this sentence, for example: Jack, the barber, had cut Bobby’s hair. The noun is “Jack,” and the appositive phrase is “the barber.” By just using the word “Jack,” the writer doesn’t tell that Jack is a barber. So, because the original “actor,” couldn’t perform that scene, the “double” had to fill in.

Now, appositive phrases should ALWAYS, indefinitely, and beyond any compromise, be able to be taken from the sentence without damaging the sentence structure. Let’s look at another sentence: “Orion, my favorite constellation, has a well known belt, which is made up of three stars.” There are two appositive phrases in this sentence. The first is “my favorite constellation,” which applies to Orion, and the second is “three stars,” describing his belt.

Now, before moving on, I would like to point out that in the second appositive phrase, I didn’t include “which is made up of.” While this does apply to the belt, those words don’t replace “belt.” They make up a prepositional phrase, which we’ll save for another time. Moving on, there are the two appositive phrases. Now what? Well, to show how you can remove the appositive phrases (and respective prepositions) with out fracturing the structure of the sentence.

Try to take them out. You should end up with “Orion has a well known belt.” There’s nothing wrong with that sentence, other than simplicity, but that’s never hurt anyone, has it? Now, to show you an example of what ISN’T an appositive phrase I’ll give another example. “Jessie, who just bought a new dog, is my best friend.” Just because a phrase follows a noun and is in commas doesn’t mean it’s an appositive phrase. (By the way, appositives WILL always be between commas.

Very rarely are there exceptions. Now, if you take out “who just bought a new dog” the sentence will still be fine, so why isn’t it an appositive phrase? Well, because there’s a verb. It’s describing something that Jessie has done, not stating who she is in a different way. If the sentence had read, “Jessie, my best friend, just bought a new dog.” then “my best friend” would be an appositive phrase. It can be hard to find an appositive phrase.

Now, one of the most common mistakes concerning appositive phrases is differentiating between them and prepositional phrases. It can get pretty confusing, and many skilled writers often have to double check. One of the sure-fire ways to find an appositive phrase is to memorize a list of common prepositions. My seventh grade teacher had us memorize 25 to the tune of “Yankee Doodle,” and I’ll never forget it. It’s very convenient, and I promise the effort will be worth it.

Now, if you’d rather not memorize a bunch of random words that you don’t care about, then there’s another way to separate phrases. Ask yourself, is there a verb? If yes, it’s definitely not either. If no, then there’s still a possibility for both phrases. Try to imagine what the phrase says. If it says “under the table,” that’s not describing someone, so it’s a prepositional phrase. And if all else fails, there’s always dictionaries to check a word’s part of speech.

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