Want to add some details to your writing to liven it up? If your descriptions could use some help, consider using appositive phrases the next time that you write. Not only do appositives give you an opportunity to include some details to help your readers get a clear mental picture from your words, but they create some sentence variety in your writing as well. An underused tool, the appositive phrase is always set apart from the rest of the sentence by commas. Although it most often appears as an interruption in the middle of a sentence, an appositive phrase can also be found at the beginning or end of a sentence as well. Be careful, because commas can separate other kinds of phrases and clauses, too. You will know you are looking at an appositive phrase if it can be removed from the sentence and still leave you with a complete sentence.
First, let’s consider the form you are likely to encounter most frequently. When an appositive phrase interrupts the regular sentence, it is written between a pair of commas. In the following sentence, the appositive phrase will appear in bold typeface.
Earth, the only planet in our galaxy known to support life, is sometimes called the third rock from the sun.
Notice that the appositive phrase, the only planet in our galaxy known to support life, is separated from the sentence by a pair of commas. If the appositive phrase and its commas were taken out of the sentence, it would still make sense even though many interesting details would be lost:
Earth is sometimes called the third rock from the sun.
When an appositive phrase comes at the beginning or end of the sentence, only a single comma separates it from the sentence. The rule about remaining a sentence when the appositive phrase is removed must still be met. In the following sentences, the appositive phrases will appear in bold typeface.
A woman with a soft spot in her heart for animals, my grandmother could not say no to a stray animal that needed a home.
We traveled a long distance by bus to see Stonehenge, an arrangement of huge rocks that dates back to prehistoric times.
Notice that each of the appositive phrases is separated from its sentence by a single comma. If we remove the appositive phrases and their commas, we would still have complete sentences:
My grandmother could not say no to a stray animal that needed a home.
We traveled a long distance by bus to see Stonehenge.
Appositive phrases are also quite useful for combining sentences to avoid the pitfall of too many short, choppy sentences. Sentence variety, using a mixture of different types of sentences of varying lengths, allows the writer to include lots of interesting details while keeping the flow of the writing smooth and easy to read. Consider the difference between the following two writing styles. The first uses several short, simple sentences. The second uses a single complex sentence.
I like to swim. I swim in the summer. Summer is the hot season of the year. I swim at my favorite beach. The beach is called Ocean Beach.
Ocean Beach, my favorite beach, is where I like to swim in the summer, the hot season of the year.
Combining all the simple sentences into one complex sentence allows us to keep the details that we want to include while providing a smoother reading experience for our readers.