5 Appositive Phrases with Punctuation Problems
An appositive is a noun or a noun phrase that appears in proximity to another noun or noun phrase to define or modify it. When writers employ nonrestrictive appositions, which consist of optional additional information, they sometimes fail to punctuate the sentence correctly to indicate that the phrase is parenthetical, leading to confusion. Here are five sentences in which insertion of a single comma repairs the damage.
1. “John Smith, Jones’s rival and number four on the FBI’s most-wanted list is caught.”
If this sentence began with “Jones’s rival . . .,” it would be correctly punctuated. But “John Smith” is the subject, “is caught” is the object, and the phrase beginning “Jones’s rival” and ending “most-wanted list” is an appositive, and must be punctuated as a parenthetical phrase: “John Smith, Jones’s rival and number four on the FBI’s most-wanted list, is caught.”
2. “John Doe, who once led the company was indicted on eighty-five counts in a huge federal case.”
The basic facts are that John Doe was indicted; the phrase “who once led the company” is an appositive parenthetical and must, like the descriptive phrase in the preceding example, be framed by commas: “John Doe, who once led the company, was indicted on eighty-five counts in a huge federal case.”
3. “Life has been rough for Jane Roe, the governor’s chief of staff ever since her controversial remark went public.”
“The governor’s chief of staff” is the appositive here; without a comma following the phrase to complement the preceding comma, the statement implies that she gained her position when she made the remark: “Life has been rough for Jane Roe, the governor’s chief of staff, ever since her controversial remark went public.”
4. “General Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman who just wrapped up a visit to Afghanistan, was asked whether he foresees North Korea taking military action soon.”
By combining the general’s title with the reference to his recent visit to Afghanistan, the sentence implies that more than one Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman exists; Dempsey is the one who had just returned from Afghanistan. The phrase “the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman” must be bracketed by a pair of commas to show that it is the first of two parenthetical phrases dividing the subject from the object: “General Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, who just wrapped up a visit to Afghanistan, was asked whether he foresees North Korea taking military action soon.”
(Sometimes, one of two consecutive appositives that follow another noun or noun phrase can be separated by relocating one before the noun or noun phrase it refers to, but here, Dempsey’s title would compete with his military rank; however, the reference to the Afghanistan visit could be moved to a subsequent sentence, or even deleted because it is irrelevant to the sentence.)
5. “The next antiwar demonstration scheduled to take place on April 7 may take aim at companies outside San Francisco.”
This sentence’s lack of internal punctuation will likely lead readers to assume that more than one demonstration is scheduled to take place on April 7, which is a distracting error. The reference to the date is in apposition, identifying the date of the event (it is appositive because, as a truncated version of “the one scheduled to take place on April 7,” it is another way of referring to “the next antiwar demonstration”), and could be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence: “The next antiwar demonstration, scheduled to take place on April 7, may take aim at companies outside San Francisco.”
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