When two things push against each other, creating resistance, we call that opposition. When two grammatical structures, even simple parts of speech, sit next to each other in sentence, elaborating on each other, that’s called apposition. The example below shows an appositive in action (as do “grammatical structures” and “even simple parts of speech” in the previous sentence). The elements underlined are in apposition:
Champlain College, a small college in Vermont, prides itself on professionally focused majors.
The above example puts two noun phrases in apposition: Champlain College and a small college in Vermont. (Phrases are words that, together, function as a unit but do not form a complete sentence or clause. For example, a small college in Vermont is a bunch of words that, together, function like a noun.)
Note that the elements in apposition add details about each other. Sometimes these details add useful information, and sometimes the details bring emphasis to the elements. Again, examples show the rhetorical effect of using appositives:
I once worked for a manager, a woman whose career included being in Elton John’s road crew in her twenties, who could repair any office machine.
My dog, an aging golden retriever, is a certified therapy dog.
Our home team, Kestrel F.C., is now in third place.
For breaking news about First Nations, we recommend Canada’s public media outlets, a reliable source for indigenous perspectives.
The above examples show nouns and noun phrases in apposition. Notice that the appositives can fall at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of sentences.
Many grammatical units can be in apposition, though correct grammar indicates that the structures in apposition should be of the same type (e.g., nouns/noun phrases with nouns/noun phrases, verbs/verbal phrases with verbs/verbal phrases, etc.). Here are examples of grammatical units other than nouns/noun phrases in apposition.
Verb phrases in apposition:
We are going to have to invest more heavily, prioritize what we value, if we are going to achieve our goals this year.
Adjective phrases in apposition:
She was smart, wise to the kinds of trick questions that committees like this one sometimes threw at candidates.
All the examples presented here so far show two grammatical elements in apposition. There is no limit to the number of elements in apposition that a grammatically correct sentence can sustain. Here’s an example:
Researchers have been spending more time on the lake, the region’s most important waterway, the Wisconsin Glacier’s handiwork, the most popular tourist destination, as they try to determine the chief source of algae blooms.
You get the idea. How you use appositives—what type, where, and how many—depends on your purposes and goals as a writer.
Check out this breathless use of appositives for emphasis from the political website The Hill. The writer is using relative clauses in apposition. Relative clauses are clauses because they have a word in the subject slot and also a verb; they are dependent clauses, not independent clauses, because they can’t stand alone as complete sentences. The who in the relative clauses in apposition below is known as a relative pronoun.
The difference between Donald Trump and someone who is sound of mind, who understands the heavy burden of the presidency, who takes seriously his role as commander in chief, who comprehends what a powerful bully pulpit he has, who recognizes that his every word can have profound consequences, is that Donald J. Trump acts contrary to every measure a rational person would take.
—Maria Cardona, writing for The Hill, 16 September 2019