Rectifying usage myths about correlative conjunctions and appositives – IV

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This week, I’m presenting the final part of my discussion of the appositive or appositive phrase as a grammatical element that serves to define, modify, or amplify a noun or noun phrase beside it. This and last week’s discussion seek to rectify the contention of a member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum that it’s grammatically wrong to use commas to set off the proper noun “Mwita Chacha” in this lead sentence of a recent 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 those commas render the sentence without a subject, and that the proper construction is to make the proper noun “Mwita Chacha” the subject instead. I clarified though that in that sentence, “Mwita Chacha” is a nonessential or nonrestrictive appositive, one that can very well be knocked off from that sentence. The noun phrase “a Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum” would then become its grammatically valid and properly functioning subject: “A Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum recently related this very curious incident about the use of position titles.”

Here’s the substantive part of the rest of my clarification of appositive usage:

We must keep in mind, though, that my use of “Mwita Chacha” as an appositive in that sentence was a subjective decision. Such a decision is called for in journalistic writing, where readers generally wouldn’t know the subject of a news story by name at first mention—unless, of course, that subject has become famous or notorious enough to be immediately recognized by that name. In that case, as you proposed in your rewrite of that sentence, I could have used “Mwita Chacha” as the subject and “a Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum” as an appositive phrase amplifying it. Obviously, though, the name “Mwita Chacha” has not attained journalistic fame nor notoriety yet to warrant that usage.


After this explanation of mine, you commented that “Mwita Chacha” is less suitable as an appositive than “a Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum” in the sentence in question. That’s a highly subjunctive judgment. As I’ve pointed out, the decision on what to use or not to use as an appositive is a matter of individual choice based on the writer’s point of view and that of the target readers. Of course, it’s understandable for most everybody to expect that his or her name be given more prominence than a particular description or amplification of that name, but to insist that this be made a cardinal grammar rule in appositive usage is totally unwarranted from both the grammatical or semantic standpoint.

Then, in a subsequent posting in the Forum, you claimed that I made a statement to the effect that an appositive or appositive phrase can’t introduce sentences. Nowhere in my discussion of the subject did I say that; in fact, if the appositive or appositive phrase is specific enough to provide enough information for the sentence to retain its meaning, it could very well be used as the subject itself that introduces the sentence.

This is why it’s perfectly grammatical to use the noun phrase “a Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum” as subject and then to drop the appositive “Mwita Chacha” in that sentence of mine: “A Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum recently related this very curious incident about the use of position titles.”

When a writer so desires, however, the nonessential appositive “Mwita Chacha” can also be retained, but as I have done in my original sentence, it needs to be set off by commas to make the sentence grammatically and structurally airtight: “A Tanzania-based member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum, Mwita Chacha, recently related this very curious incident about the use of position titles.”

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.

j8carillo@yahoo.com

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1 Comment

  1. Obviously, though, the name “Mwita Chacha” has not yet attained the journalistic fame or notoriety to warrant that usage.

    .to insist that this be made a cardinal grammar rule in appositive usage is totally unwarranted from both the grammatical and semantic standpoints..