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Apposition‏‎ in English Grammar

Clark Kent & SupermanApposition is when you have 2 nouns (or noun phrases) next to each other and they both refer to the same thing. Each of them provides a bit of information about each other.

For example, take these basic sentences:

Clark Kent leaped into a phone booth.
Clark Kent is an ace reporter.
Clark Kent is Superman.

We can put two noun phrases in apposition thus:

Ace reporter Clark Kent + leaped into a phone booth.

In other words, we take two noun phrases and use them together. They can either provide more information (after all, Clark Kent is an ace reporter) or they can rename each other:

Superman (Clark Kent) + leaped into a phone booth.

Here are a few more examples:

{noun phrase} + {noun phrase}

Her best dish ever, + Farfalle a la Trapanese + is a pasta dish.

Don’t leave your socks on the floor or + our puppy, + Luca, + will eat them.

In the examples above, the apposition means that we have 2 noun phrases next to each other and both refer to the same thing. The noun phrases are, in other words, in apposition.

Punctuation

When nouns are in apposition they are usually (although not always) offset with commas, brackets or dashes.

Diane (doyen of the peripatetic world) got on her bike.

His uncle – the King of England – plotted to have him murdered.

Ace reporter Clark Kent leaped into a phone booth.

In the first example we don’t need to have doyen of the peripatetic world to understand the sentence so it is optional. We can separate it off with brackets or commas depending on what our message is.

In the second example we want the extra information to stand out so we use dashes.

Finally in the third example it is essential that we have both noun phrases for the sentence to make sense so there’s no need to use any form of punctuation.

* Ace reporter leaped into a phone booth.

* an asterisk means this sentence is ungrammatical

Apposition and TEFL

It’s not normally necessary to specifically teach apposition in class, however as a TEFL teacher you should be aware of the term and what it means.

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