Teaching Phrases 2: An Overview of Appositives

What is an Appositive?

A noun appositive is a noun or noun phrase that renames another noun right beside it. It will identify, explain or give more information about that word. The appositive can be a few words or a longer combination.

Let’s have a look at some examples:

The guard, a new recruit, stood next to the gate.

The guard, a new recruit with piercing eyes, stood next to the gate.

A new recruit with piercing eyes, the guard stood next to the gate.

The guard, a new recruit with piercing eyes who was holding a machine gun, stood next to the gate.

The guard stood next to the gate, one of six heavily armoured entrances to the facility.

Appositives, if they are non-essential, are always separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma or, if they are embedded in the middle, with a pair of commas.

Why should we teach them?

One of the techniques explained in detail in ‘The Writing Revolution’ (this underlined part is an example of a noun appositive!), the noun appositive is a useful construction to teach to students. A guide to advancing thinking through writing in all subjects and grades, (another example of an appositive!) the book explains how, through explicit teaching and deliberate, purposive practice, students can develop and extend their ability to write proficiently. The American Educator published a short overview of the book in the Summer 2017 issue. and this article is well worth a read if you want to understand their approach.

The book lists a number of benefits to practising appositives and, although it does not deal with absolute phrases or participle phrases, constructions that I will explore in subsequent posts, (another example of an appositive!) these benefits apply equally to all three phrase types.

1) ‘Provides an effective strategy for creating topic and concluding sentences

2) ‘Enables students to vary sentence structure’

Both of these benefits are similar as they focus on increasing student’s ability to ‘compose complex and interesting sentences’. Although there are many other facets of good writing, being able to use and manipulate a range of sentence structures is a clear sign of proficiency. When writing descriptive, narrative or persuasive pieces, appositives allow students to create sophisticated constructions, adding variety, nuance and detail.

3) Enables students to include more information in a sentence and add complexity

The complexity comes from the fact that the explanation is embedded and subordinated within the same sentence rather than having two or more simple constructions. Compare these examples:

Macbeth is a fearless warrior. He is described as ‘valour’s minion’

A fearless warrior, Macbeth is described as ‘valour’s minion.’

Mrs. Birling labels Eva Smith ‘a girl of that sort’. Mrs Birling believes that the lower class are less worthy, less deserving of respect and perhaps even less human.

A woman who labels Eva Smith as ‘a girl of that sort’, Mrs Birling believes that the lower class are less worthy, less deserving of respect and perhaps even less human.

4) Improves reading comprehension

5) Enables teachers to check for comprehension

One of the main ideas within ‘The Writing Revolution’ is that the deliberate practice of sentences should be focussed entirely on the content that is being learnt, therefore developing writing skills as well as deepening understanding of content. As soon as students are able to use appositives, we should embed practice activities in the content that we teach. As an English teacher, this means getting students to use appositives analytically and when writing in response to texts.

6) Encourages close reading

You can give students a topic and ask them to write sentences that contain appositives, developing their ability to analyse or paraphrase the text that they have read. Here are some examples from Jekyll and Hyde:

TASK: Explore the character of Utterson in Jekyll and Hyde

The archetypal Victorian Gentleman, Utterson is obsessed with propriety and decorum.

Utterson, an ‘austere’ man who avoids pleasure and frivolity in order to maintain his reputation, is obsessed with propriety and decorum.

Despite being a man whose ‘past was fairly blameless’, Utterson was ‘humbled to the dust by the many ill things that he had done’, a statement that hints at his paranoia, his insecurity and his unhealthy obsession with appearances and reputation.

7) Familiarises students with a form that is often seen in text and rarely heard in spoken language.

As mentioned in my last post, quality prose contains a number of constructions that are unique to written communication. Even in formalised, academic speech, people rarely, if ever, use appositives. This means that students who do not read widely will rarely be exposed to or even be aware of the fact that these sentence styles exist. Explicit instruction and purposive deliberate practice can change this and students can quickly begin to incorporate appositives into their writing.

Next post: An overview of Participle phrases.



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