Punctuation: Commas with appositives

Issue 265 November 20, 2008

An appositive is a word or phrase that explains or amplifies another element in the sentence.
example: Master woodworker Jim DuBois carved the corbels.
In this sentence, Jim DuBois is the appositive of master woodworker.

Writers often wonder whether they should set off appositives with commas.

When the appositive is essential to understanding the name or term it modifies, then no, you don’t need commas. The example above has no commas because there are many master woodworkers in the world; his name is essential information.

When the appositive offers nonessential information, however, you should set it off with commas.
example: Her father, master woodworker Jim DuBois, carved the corbels.
Her father has already narrowed the subject down to one person. The information between the commas gives us more information about him, but it could go away without altering the meaning or structure of the sentence.

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