Last Revised 8/10/06
KISS Grammar Workbooks "Level Five Instructional Material"


     Most definitions of "appositive" limit the concept to nouns, i.e., two nouns joined by their referring to the same thing with no preposition or conjunction joining them.

They are in Williamsport, a city in Pennsylvania.
Mary, a biologist, studies plants.

Whole/Part Appositives

     Many textbooks also point out that the relationship between an appositive and the word to which it is in apposition does not have to be one of strict equality. Often the appositives refer to parts:

The car has several new features -- an electric motor, side airbags, and an alloy-aluminum frame.
As the following sentence from Theodore Dreiser's "The Lost Phoebe" illustrates, the "equality" aspect of an appositive can be stretched:
Beyond these and the changes of weather – the snows, the rains, and the fair days – there are no immediate, significant things. 
"Snows." "rains" and "fair days" are not "changes"; they are what the weather changes to and from. Some linguists may have a technical name for this type of appositive, but I doubt that the general public needs such a specialized name.
     The "part/whole" relationship of appositives suggests another way of looking at the fairly frequent use of "all" after a noun. In this case, the "all" emphasizes the "whole":
They all went to the movies.
Although we could consider "all" here to be an adjective that appears after the noun it modifies, some people may prefer to see it as a pronoun that functions as an appositive to the preceding pronouns or nouns.

Reflexive Pronouns as Appositives

     Reflexive pronouns ("myself," "yourself," etc.) function as appositives -- 

He himself would never have done that.

Repetitive Appositives

     As sentences become longer and more complex, a word is sometimes repeated and can be considered to function as an appositive:

The cat had eyes that glowed in the dark light of the quarter-moon night, eyes that held him entranced until he heard a scream in the distance.

     In analyzing texts (instead of studying the grammar textbooks), you may agree that other parts of speech and various constructions can also function as appositives. Consider the following and decide if they make sense to you.

Finite Verbs as Appositives

     In the following sentence from the first paragraph of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, the second "lived" is clearly an appositive to the first:

She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on -- lived to have six children more -- to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself.
But verbs that function as appositives do note have to be limited only to those that repeat the exact words. Consider the following sentence:
She struggled, kicked and bit, until her attacker let her go.
The three finite verbs do not denote three distinct acts: "struggled" denotes a general concept which is made more specific in "kicked" and "bit." Can we not then say that the last two finite verbs function in apposition? 

Gerunds as Appositives

     Gerunds can function as appositives:

1.  I brought off a new trick, jumping off Herakles with a standing back-somersault, and landing on my feet. 

2.  Hepzibah was good at most things she did, making pastry and telling stories and keeping poultry. 

In (1), the "trick" is the "jumping off Herakles" and "landing on my feet," and in (2) the "things" are "making pastry," "telling stories," and "keeping poultry."

Prepositional Phrases as Appositives

     A sentence from an essay by George Orwell illustrates how constructions, in this case, prepositional phrases, can also function appositionally: 

  In Gandhi’s case the questions one feels inclined to ask are: to what extent was Gandhi moved by vanity--by the consciousness of himself as a humble, naked old man, sitting on a praying mat and shaking empires by sheer spiritual power--and to what extent did he compromise his own principles by entering politics, which of their nature are inseparable from coercion and fraud?
Is there a better, simpler way of explaining "by the consciousness" and the phrases dependent on it than to say that the phrase is an appositive to "by vanity"?

Subordinate Clauses as Appositives

     Consider the following sentence from "Jack and His Golden Box," (Child-Story Readers: Wonder Stories 3, by Frank N. Freeman, Grace E. Storm, Eleanor M. Johnson, & W. C. French. Illustrated by Vera Stone Norman. New York: Lyons and Carnahan, 1927-29-36. pp. 43-64.)

Jack told the King his story, how he had lost the great castle, and how he had twelve months and a day to find it
The two subordinate clauses function as appositives to "story." This is somewhat unusual, and I doubt that you will find it explained in most grammar textbooks. Note, however, that it is true. The two clauses do not describe the story; they are the story. Delete "his story" from the sentence, and the two clauses become the direct objects of "told."

Mixed Construction Appositives

      The concept of the appositive grows still more once we realize that not all appositives have to be composed of identical parts of speech, i.e., noun and noun, verb and verb. etc. The following sentence was written by a mother who had returned to college: 

Heavy feet followed me on up the attic stairs -- treasure-filled attic, hiding place for Mother’s Day cards, carefully printed on pasty colored paper, yellowed packets of letters, saved since World War II.
The identity here is not of meaning, but of the word itself: the adjective "attic" turns into the noun. But is there an easier way of explaining this than as an appositive? In the following sentence, also written by a student, the apposition is between an infinitive phrase and a noun: 
 Left alone, and needled by that nagging sense of guilt, she busies herself cleaning house and lets the "coffee pot boil over," an effective image to describe her anger, which is short lived, as night softens her memory of the harsh morning light and she falls prey to her lust again.

Appositive, or Subject?

     The following sentence is from Mr. Fortune's Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner:

A socket of molten stone rent and deserted by its ancient fires and garlanded round with a vegetation as wild as fire and more inexhaustible, the whole island breathes the peculiar romance of a being with a stormy past.
The psycholinguistic model suggests that most readers will process "socket" as a subject and look for its verb. But they will not find one. They may be tempted to read "rent" as a finite verb, but the following "and" joins it to "deserted," thereby indicating that these are two gerundives that modify "socket" but do not function as its finite verb. "Garlanded," the next "verb," is likewise a gerundive. Thus the reader continues to process the words in the sentence, but instead of finding a verb for "socket," they run into "the whole island."  Although this is not an easy construction to decipher, it becomes apparent that the "socket" is the "island." Thus we have an appositive that precedes the noun to which it is in apposition. One could, of course, argue that "island" is the appositive to "socket," but this would simply be an argument about terminology. Appositives that precede the noun to which they are in apposition are relatively rare, but they do exist.
     For an example of a noun absolute that functions in this way, consider the following sentence from Nina Bawden's Carrie's War:
So many thoughts twisting round, it made her quite giddy.

California "Appositives"

     None of the preceding applies to students and teachers in California. The 1997 California state standards include a "Glossary" which defines the word "Appositive":

A word or phrase that restates or modifies an immediately preceding noun. Note: An appositive is often useful as a context clue for determining or refining the meaning of the word or words to which it refers.
Example: My son Enrico (appositive) is twelve years old.
This is a very interesting and juvenile definition and example. At the time I read it, I happened to be preparing a KISS analysis, by levels, of Shakespeare's "That time of year." It contains two appositives:
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
I wondered if most people would consider "boughs" as "immediately preceding" "choirs," and "night" as immediately preceding "self." Because there is no noun, in either case, between the appositive and its antecedent, I decided to give the California State Board the benefit of the doubt here, but, my curiosity aroused, I also decided to look for some other examples.
        I found an interesting one in the opening of "Daisy Miller," by Henry James:
But at the "Trois Couronnes," it must be added, there are other features that are much at variance with these suggestions: neat German waiters, who look like secretaries of legation; Russian princesses sitting in the garden; little Polish boys walking about held by the hand, with their governors; a view of the sunny crest of the Dent du Midi and the picturesque towers of the Castle of Chillon.
If we apply the California definition to this, instead of all being appositives to "features," "waiters" is an appositive to "suggestions"; "princesses," to "legation"; "boys," to "garden"; and "view," to "governors." Defenders of the California definition might object that the semicolons in James' sentence separate these words from each other such that one cannot be the antecedent for the other. Nothing in the definition states this, but if we allow the objection, then each of the appositives ends up being in apposition to "suggestions."
       Because the California definition is so simplistic, we need to look at the example, "My son Enrico. Such kinship appositives (Uncle Bob, sister Sue, cousin Sam) are in all probability examples of O'Donnell's "formulas." Fourth graders are past-masters of them. If this is what the standard means, then we have another example of state standards setting as an objective something that the students already know. We need to remember, moreover, that the standard states  "Combine short, related sentences with appositives, participial phrases, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases."  Fourth graders do not need to be able to identify appositives and participial phrases," they just need to "combine" them.
       Because California has such a limited definition of the appositive, and because fourth graders have already mastered the kinship appositives as formulas, teachers in California can abide by the standards without violating what we know about natural syntactic development. All they have to do is to limit the exercises to kinship appositives:
My uncle's name is Bob. He is a fisherman. (My uncle Bob is a fisherman.)
These will be very easy to teach because the students will very quickly "learn" them. And the California Department of Education should be happy. 
     Unfortunately, California's simplistic standards created a problem for the rest of the country. The textbook publishers read the word "appositive" and included exercises such as "Mary is a biologist. She studies animals." The research, as well as my own experience, suggests that such exercises confuse some fourth graders, but what California wants, California usually gets. The rest of us, however, should probably ignore California.

Exercises on Appositives.