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Kristin Fracchia

TuesdACT: English Tips – Appositives

In this episode of TuesdACT, we’re talking about appositives, those little phrases between commas that trip up a lot of students on the ACT.

Here’s an example of an appositive:

My uncle, the greatest chef who ever lived, is cooking dinner tonight.

An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that RENAMES another noun right beside it. In this case “the greatest chef who ever lived” is renaming “my uncle.”

Check out the video above for what the ACT specifically tests about these mysterious little creatures, including:

  • Setting appositives off with commas
  • Most of the time, appositives are set off with commas. This technically makes them non-essential to the sentence. They’re extra information that is helpful but not essential. This means you can lift whatever is set off with commas out of the sentence, and it should still read as a sentence. So when an appositive is in the middle of a sentence make sure that one of these commas isn’t dropped:

    This would be wrong:

      My uncle the greatest chef who ever lived, is cooking dinner tonight.

    and this would be wrong:

      My uncle, the greatest chef who ever lived is cooking dinner tonight.


  • Setting off the right things in between commas.
  • Be really careful that you don’t include more than what is in the appositive or less than the full phrase between the commas.

    For example:

      My uncle the greatest chef, who ever lived, is cooking dinner tonight.

    Take a good hard look at a sentence like this when you have answer choices that move the commas around. It’s pretty common to have a clause that begins with “who” in the middle of a sentence, and the ACT will use things that look familiar like this to try to catch you. So you have to stop and think, “What is the full phrase that is RENAMING “my uncle”? The answer is “the greatest chef who ever lived,” so that entire phrase needs to be set off with commas.


  • Not all appositives need to be set off with commas.
  • This is a trickier scenario that the ACT might test. Sometimes, appositives are considered essential to the sentence, and in that case, you don’t set them off with commas. You can try the “lift it out of the sentence” test to see if there would be an error created if we took an appositive out. If that is the case, then you should NOT set the appositive off with commas. Take a look at this example:

      President of the school board Jane Smith decreed that summer vacation should be abolished.

    In this case, if we set Jane Smith off with commas that would mean it could be lifted out of the sentence, and the sentence should still read correctly. But it doesn’t. We would need a “The” before “president” to make this sentence work, so Jane Smith should NOT be set off with commas.



The three main things to be watching out for regarding appositives on the ACT:

  1. Make sure they are correctly set off with commas.
  2. Make sure the right part of the sentence is set off with commas.
  3. Know that not all appositives should be set off with commas. Make sure you don’t create a grammar error if you were to lift that comma-sectioned-off phrase out of the sentence.


About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's blogs are chock-full of awesome, free resources for students preparing for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agonizing bliss of marathon running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

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