Punctuation Quiz #11: Appositives

By Mark Nichol

All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect style for punctuation of appositives; revise the sentences as necessary:

1. My friend, John, is coming over today.

2. He was compared to WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who has been provided asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

3. The first mate, Smith, greeted the passenger.

4. A contrarian by nature, Jones, raised an objection before allowing her to finish her statement.

5. It’s difficult to reconcile Johnson, the philanthropist, with Johnson, the embezzler.

Answers and Explanations

An appositive is framed by a pair of commas if it could be omitted from the sentence without compromising the sentence’s structure.

1.
Original: My friend, John, is coming over today.
Correct : My friend John is coming over today.

Setting a name off from an appositive description implies that the name identifies the only member of the description’s category — in this case, that John is the writer’s only friend (unless the writer previously referred to a friend). “My friend is coming today” fails to name John, so the name cannot be omitted and therefore should not be set off by commas.

2.
Original: He was compared to WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who has been provided asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
Correct : He was compared to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been provided asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

Without Assange’s name, the sentence does not make sense, so it should not be set off by commas. However, in “He was compared to Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, who has been provided asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London,” the phrase following the name is nonessential and is thus bracketed by commas.

3.
Original: The first mate, Smith, greeted the passenger.
Correct : The first mate, Smith, greeted the passenger.

A vessel has only one first mate, and “The first mate greeted the passenger” is valid because Smith is inserted as a convenience to provide readers with the name but is not essential to the statement. This sentence is correct.

4.
Original: A contrarian by nature, Jones, raised an objection before allowing her to finish her statement.
Correct : A contrarian by nature, Jones raised an objection before allowing her to finish her statement.

Jones should not be set off by two commas (though the first one correctly separates the subordinate clause and the main clause), because the sentence is flawed without the name.

5.
Original: It’s difficult to reconcile Johnson, the philanthropist, with Johnson, the embezzler.
Correct : It’s difficult to reconcile Johnson the philanthropist with Johnson the embezzler.

Here, the context makes clear that the first Johnson and the second Johnson are two sides of the same person, and philanthropist and embezzler are integral to identifying the alter egos and should not be separated from the sentence by commas.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


1 Response to “Punctuation Quiz #11: Appositives”

  • Greg Simpson

    I think a short definition of “appositive” would be in order. I’d never heard of them before.

Leave a comment: