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Apposition is a grammatical construction in which two elements, normally noun phrases, are placed side by side, with one element serving to define or modify the other. When this device is used, the two elements are said to be in apposition. For example, in the phrase "my friend Alice", the name "Alice" is in apposition to "my friend".
Traditionally, appositions were called by their Latin name appositio, although the English form is now more commonly used. It is derived from Latin: ad ("near") and positio ("placement").
Apposition is a figure of speech of the scheme type, and often results when the verbs (particularly verbs of being) in supporting clauses are eliminated to produce shorter descriptive phrases. This makes them often function as hyperbatons, or figures of disorder, because they can disrupt the flow of a sentence. For example, in the phrase: "My wife, a nurse by training, ...", it is necessary to pause before the parenthetical modification "a nurse by training".
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Apposition can either be restrictive, or non-restrictive where the second element parenthetically modifies the first.
In a non-restrictive appositive, the second element parenthetically modifies the first without changing its scope. Non-restrictive appositives are not crucial to the meaning of the sentence. In a restrictive appositive, the second element limits or clarifies the foregoing one in some crucial way. For example in the phrase "my friend Alice", "Alice" specifies to which friend the speaker is referring and is therefore restrictive. On the other hand, in the above example: "my wife, a nurse by training, ..." the parenthetical "a nurse by training" does not narrow down the subject, but rather provides additional information about the subject, namely, "my wife". In English, a non-restrictive appositive must be preceded or set off by commas, while a restrictive appositive is not set off by commas.
Not all restrictive clauses are appositives. For example, Alice in "Bill's friend Alice ..." is an appositive noun; Alice in "Bill's friend, whose name is Alice, ..." is not an appositive but, rather, the predicate of a restrictive clause. The main difference between the two is that the second explicitly states what an apposition would omit: that the friend in question is named Alice. If the meaning is clear "Bill's friend Alice" can be used ("Bill was here with his friend. [other remarks] Bill's friend Alice...").
The same words can change from restrictive to non-restrictive (or vice versa) depending on the speaker and context. Consider the phrase "my brother Nathan". If the speaker has more than one brother, the name Nathan is restrictive as it clarifies which brother. However, if the speaker has only one brother, then the brother's name is parenthetical and the correct way to write it is: "my brother, Nathan, ...". If it is not known which is the case, it is safer to omit the commas: "John's brother Nathan" is acceptable whether or not John has more brothers, unlike "John's brother, Nathan".
In the following examples, the appositive phrases are offset in italics:
A kind of appositive phrase that has caused controversy is the "false title", as in "United States Deputy Marshal Jim Hall said Tuesday that fatally wounded Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Matthews told him that fugitive tax protester Gordon W. Kahl was dead before other law enforcement officials started shooting." Such phrases are usually non-restrictive, as in the above example.
In several languages, the same syntax which is used to express such relations as possession can also be used appositively. Examples include: