1. A friend of mine, George, called the other day.

  2. The poem "The Road Not Taken" is one of Robert Frost's most famous works.

How come sentence 1 requires commas and sentence 2 does not? Both phrases ("George" and "The Road Not Taken") both specify the subject.


"Rule: When an appositive is essential to the meaning of the noun it belongs to, don’t use commas. When the noun preceding the appositive provides sufficient identification on its own, use commas around the appositive.

"Example: Jorge Torres, our senator, was born in California. Explanation: Our senator is an appositive of the proper noun Jorge Torres. Our senator is surrounded by commas because Jorge Torres is a precise identifier" (from here).

Other examples:

  • My brother Ken is a minister in the PCA denomination.
  • My trainer, Jim Shipshape, is also a bodybuilder.
  • Raconteur Ed Schlemiel will be speaking at the Jewish Community Center tonight.
  • Mezzo-soprano Hilda Gutenberg is a world-class opera singer.
  • Question: Who is coming with you on the canoe trip, and what is his name? Answer: My dad Harold will be accompanying me.

In conclusion, the appositive in your first sentence is George. Does the noun phrase which precedes it provide sufficient identification on its own? The answer is yes. So set off the appositive with commas.

The appositive in your second sentence is "The Road Not Taken." Are the words which precede it (namely, the poem) essential to its meaning? The answer is yes, because Frost wrote many, many poems, but only one of his poems is most famous. Therefore, the poem and "The Road Not Taken" are essential to one another. No commas are needed.

  • What do you think about the right way to punctuate: 1) "This is my husband John" and 2) “Next week is my wife, Liana's show.”? // And would it be okay to not set off the appositive by commas here: “The United States needs to be ready to press compromise proposals, something Mr. Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, show little interest in doing.”? Jan 9 '20 at 15:25
  • Also, re: your last example sentence, I find "My dad, Harold, will...." to work there too (I find it more natural in fact, as it lends emphasis on the name of the dad, which I think is natural in the context you provided). Also I find "Charles went to town with his best friend, Mike." unnatural as I don't see someone speaking this sentence with the intonation the comma indicates, but I am an ESL learner, not a native speaker, and the website you linked to says it's correct as given. So what do you think about this? Jan 9 '20 at 15:40
  • Frankly, I think that rules are meant to be broken. Not always, mind you, but particularly when the way the sentence sounds lends itself either to the use of commas or the non-use of commas. A so-called "violation" of the appositive rule is not as egregious an error as, say, the failure to have the verb agree with the subject in number. Sometimes, you need to let your ear be your guide, not some rule. Don Jan 9 '20 at 16:42
  1. A friend of mine, George, called the other day.
  2. The poem "The Road Not Taken" is one of Robert Frost's most famous works.

are, respectively, reduced by Whiz-Deletion from relative clauses

  1. A friend of mine, who is (named) George, called ...
  2. The poem which/that is (entitled) "The Road Not Taken" is one of ...

The relative clause in (3) is a nonrestrictive clause, with comma intonation on either end,
while the one in (4) is a restrictive clause (the kind that allows that instead of which), and
no special intonation or punctuation prescribed.

Either kind of relative clause produces an appositive NP whenever the clause has a predicate noun, and its subject and auxiliary be are removed by Whiz-Deletion. That means there are two kinds of apposition, with the same senses as restrictive and non-restrictive relatives.

Similarly, Whiz-Deletion produces postnominal modifier phrases with other types of predicates that use be auxiliaries:

  1. A tree uprooted by the storm <== A tree that was uprooted by the storm
  2. The man standing on the corner <== The man who is/was standing on the corner
  3. Somebody angry at the authorities <== Somebody who is/was angry at the authorities
  • Would you extend the label 'appositive' to the postnominal modifier phrases in (5), (6) and (7)? Oct 9 '17 at 15:10
  • 1
    Insofar as you're referring to the NP node, sure. That's the relation they're in. But the VP is more important than the NP, and predicate adjectives are related quite nicely to post nominal adjectives. Calling them appositive adjectives or participles doesn't seem to clarify anything. Oct 9 '17 at 15:26
  • Does the restrictive/nonrestrictive distinction also apply to postnominal modifier phrases obtained after Whiz-Deletion, like it does to relative clauses and appositives? Also, does it apply to any other category of clauses/phrases/etc.? Jan 18 '20 at 11:15
  • 1
    Relative clauses come in those two varieties, and so does anything derived from relative clauses, like participial phrases (The men swimming rapidly ... vs The men, swimming rapidly, ...) or Whiz-Deletion remnants (The men in the dark didn't see him vs The men, in the dark, didn't see him), or NP appositives (My son the doctor ... vs My son, the doctor, .,,. Jan 22 '20 at 21:14
  • 1
    While I admire CGEL, I don't admire its terminological innovations. One needs to distinguish between names and descriptions, and many of the names are interpreted as descriptions of things that can't be distinguished clearly. Grammar exists to support meaning, but meaning does nothing for grammar, which is automatic and meaningless. Jan 23 '20 at 16:19

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