Appositive Phrases

Writers often include defining phrases after a word or phrase. However, many writers neglect to use commas or parentheses to set off those phrases. Consider the following:

1. Walk around your dance space, and change your focus or the direction of your face as you walk.

2. An accent is an emphasis or stress on certain musical counts or with specific movements.

3. Adding silences or places where you hold a pose also contributes to rhythmic patterning.

At first glance in each of these sentences, it seems as if two different concepts are discussed. But actually the text after the or in each instance is simply a word or phrase that defines the text that occurs before the or. The phrase your focus or the direction of your face is misleading. Two commas or parentheses need to set off or the direction of your face. Better yet, for clarity, delete the or and use parentheses:

Walk around your dance space, and change your focus (the direction of your face) as you walk.

In the second example, stress is simply a synonym for emphasis. The phrase or stress needs to be set off with commas:

An accent is an emphasis, or stress, on certain musical counts or with specific movements.

The third example needs a similar edit:

Adding silences, or places where you hold a pose, also contributes to rhythmic patterning.


In your reading, be suspicious when you see the word or. Does it simply indicate a synonym for the word before it or a definition of the word or phrase before it? Or does it truly express a concept different from the phrase before the or? If it's simply a synonym or a definition, use punctuation to create appositive phrases.