Commas around Appositives‚ÄĒWhen and Why?

commaWhen do you put¬†commas around¬†appositives? First, in case you’d appreciate the reminder, an appositive is a noun or noun phrase¬†that renames the noun¬†directly preceding it. How many¬†appositives does¬†the following sentence have?

My neighbor Aleks, a rock collector, likes malachite.

Two. The first appositive‚ÄĒthe name, Aleks‚ÄĒrenames¬†the subject, neighbor.¬†Assuming that other neighbors exist, the reader needs this name¬†to make sense of the sentence. Grammarians call this kind of appositive “restrictive.” The word¬†Aleks¬†restricts the word neighbor‚ÄĒnarrows it down to the neighbor we’re talking about. Because the appositive¬†Aleks¬†is restrictive, it takes no commas, as shown in this simplified example:

My neighbor Aleks likes malachite.

The noun phrase¬†a rock collector¬†serves as an appositive¬†for the noun¬†Aleks. If we remove¬†this second appositive, a rock collector, from¬†the sentence, we still know which neighbor we’re talking about. We don’t need to restrict, or narrow down,¬†Aleks.¬†Because the appositive¬†a rock collector¬†is nonrestrictive, it takes commas, as shown in this simplified example:

Aleks, a rock collector, likes malachite.

When you wonder whether to¬†put commas around¬†an appositive, imagine those commas as greased skids¬†causing the appositive to lose its grip on the adjacent words and¬†slide¬†out of sight.¬†Does the remaining sentence still make sense?¬†If so,¬†use those slippery commas. If not, don’t.


Now that you’ve read my explanation, above, I invite you to step back¬†and¬†notice the appositives throughout the explanation itself. To make that easy, I’ve pasted¬†the same text below with¬†the appositives and their precedent nouns bolded. In each case, notice the way the presence or absence of commas supports your¬†reading experience.


When do you put¬†commas around¬†appositives? First, in case you’d appreciate the reminder, an appositive is a noun or noun phrase¬†that renames the noun¬†directly preceding it. How many¬†appositives does¬†the following sentence have?

My neighbor Aleks, a rock collector, likes malachite.

Two. The first appositive‚ÄĒthe name,¬†Aleks‚ÄĒrenames¬†the subject,¬†neighbor.¬†Assuming that other neighbors exist, the reader needs this name¬†to make sense of the sentence. Grammarians call this kind of appositive “restrictive.” The word¬†Aleks¬†restricts the word¬†neighbor‚ÄĒnarrows it down to the neighbor we’re talking about. Because the appositive¬†Aleks¬†is restrictive, it takes no commas, as shown in this simplified example:

My neighbor Aleks likes malachite.

The noun phrase¬†a rock collector¬†serves as an appositive¬†for the noun¬†Aleks. If we remove¬†this second appositive,¬†a rock collector,¬†from the sentence, we still know which neighbor we’re talking about. We don’t need to restrict, or narrow down,¬†Aleks.¬†Because the appositive¬†a rock collector¬†is nonrestrictive, it takes commas, as shown in this simplified example:

Aleks, a rock collector, likes malachite.

When you wonder whether to¬†put commas around¬†an appositive, imagine those commas as greased skids causing the appositive to lose its grip on the adjacent words and¬†slide¬†out of sight.¬†Does the remaining sentence still make sense?¬†If so,¬†use those slippery commas. If not, don’t.


During your first readthrough‚ÄĒunless you read the way I do, one eye out for meaning and the other out for mechanics‚ÄĒyou probably gave little thought to¬†the bolded appositives¬†or their punctuation. You didn’t need to. That’s the point. The commas did their work in the background. Like a well-trained butler, thoughtfully used punctuation serves the reader without calling attention to itself. Of-a that I’m a-positive.