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Grammar Repair Shop: What’s an appositive?

by on
in Workplace Communication

Correct or incorrect? This is in response to your daughter, Felicia’s enrollment in the XYZ program.

An admin recently sent in the question, saying she suspected the single comma was incorrect, but she didn’t know how to write the sentence correctly.

The sentence uses an appositive, a noun or noun phrase used next to another noun or noun phrase to explain it. In this case, “Felicia” is the appositive. “Felicia” helps explain what the writer means by “your daughter.”

In figuring out where or whether to use commas with an appositive, you first have to figure out whether the clarifying information is essential or extra. The rule is this: Extra information requires commas.

Consider another example: Our attorney, Stan Mednick, advised us to document the incidents. Are the words “Stan Mednick” essential or extra? They’re extra. You could just as easily write the sentence without them. Extra information requires commas.

But consider this example: Attorney Stan Mednick advised us to document the incidents. It wouldn’t make sense to write “Attorney advised us to document the incidents,” so the information (“Stan Mednick”) is essential. Since it’s essential, it doesn’t require commas.

Now, going back to our original example. The appositive “Felicia” is extra information, so it requires commas.

The curve ball in this sentence, though, is that it has a possessive construction. When a possessive noun is followed by an appositive, the “apostrophe s” is added to the appositive, not to the noun. When this happens, you drop the comma that would normally follow the appositive phrase.

And so we have the correctly written sentence: This is in response to your daughter, Felicia’s enrollment in the XYZ program.

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