In the first two parts of this discussion, I rectified the contention of a member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum, Mwita Chacha, that the two grammatical elements linked by a correlative conjunction should be (1) similar in length and (2) perfectly balanced.
This time I will dissect his strong objection to my use of a comma next to the proper noun “Mwita Chacha” in this lead sentence of a previous column of mine: “A Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum, Mwita Chacha, recently related this very curious incident about the use of position titles.”
He argued that using that comma has rendered the sentence without a subject, and that to make it grammatically correct, it should be constructed with the proper noun “Mwita Chacha” as the subject instead.
My reply to that argument:
Your strong objection to that sentence of mine is clearly the result of a misunderstanding of what appositives and appositive phrases are, so let’s first go back to the basics by going to the definition of an appositive.
An appositive is a word or word group that defines or further identifies the noun or noun phrase preceding it. For instance, in the sentence “Edward, a computer whiz, wants to sell his unique street-mapping program to Microsoft,” the word group “the computer whiz” is the appositive and it serves to further identify the proper noun “Edward.”
On the other hand, an appositive phrase is a group of words—along with its associated modifiers—that renames, re-identifies, or amplifies the word that precedes the phrase.
For instance, in the sentence “Edward, a computer whiz who wants to sell his unique street-mapping program to Microsoft, got a handsome offer from the company yesterday,” the appositive phrase “the computer whiz who wants to sell his unique street-mapping program to Microsoft” amplifies the proper noun “Edward.”
Now recall that there are two kinds of appositives—the essential or restrictive appositive and the nonessential or nonrestrictive appositive.
An essential or restrictive appositive narrows the meaning of the word it modifies and is necessary to clarify the meaning of the sentence. This kind of appositive is usually a single word or a set of words closely related to the preceding word, and does not require commas to set it off from the rest of the sentence, as in this example: “The American actor Robert Downey Jr. has made the comics character Iron Man one of the world’s most lucrative movie franchises.” Without “Robert Downey Jr.” as restrictive appositive (meaning one not set off by commas), we won’t know the identity of the actor being talked about.
On the other hand, a nonessential or nonrestrictive appositive is not absolutely necessary to the meaning of a sentence; it may be omitted without altering that basic meaning. As such, it must be set off from the rest of the sentence by one or two commas, depending on its position in the sentence: “Albert’s brother, a Philippine-educated information technology specialist, works with Boeing in the United States.”
“A Philippine-educated information technology specialist, Albert’s brother works with Boeing in the United States.”
Now, my sentence construction that you found disturbing is actually a sentence with a nonessential or nonrestrictive appositive, “Mwita Chacha.” See how that sentence can stand on its own and be meaningful without that appositive: “A Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum recently related this very curious incident about the use of position titles.”
Clearly, contrary to what you think, that sentence still has a grammatically valid and properly functioning subject—the noun phrase “a Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum.” This noun phrase provides sufficient identification on its own even without the proper name “Mwita Chacha,” and it’s precisely for this reason that I used commas to set this proper name off in that sentence.
(To be concluded next week)
Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.