The Grammarphobia Blog

My dog Fang

Q: I’ve been reading Woe Is I Jr. and loving it. (I’m an English teacher turned librarian.) I do have a question, however. On page 43, “Fang” is identified as the subject of the sentence “My dog Fang is all muddy.” If “Fang” is the subject, what is “dog”? I picked “dog” as the subject and identified “Fang” as an appositive.

A: The full subject of that sentence is, of course, the phrase “My dog Fang.” The noun phrase “my dog” and the noun ”Fang” are appositives. (An appositive is a noun or pronoun or noun phrase put beside or near another to explain it.)

So which of the appositives – “My dog” or “Fang” – is the simple subject of that sentence? The simple answer is both of them. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, by Randolph Quirk and others, offers a fuller explanation.

The authors say appositives can be in full or partial apposition. In full apposition (as in “my dog Fang”) either appositive can be omitted and what remains will be a proper sentence.

Each appositive, according to Quirk, serves the same grammatical function – that is, either “My dog” or “Fang” could be regarded as the simple subject.

Appositives can be tricky. Some usage experts would identify only the second element (“Fang”) as an appositive; others would insist that just the explanatory part (“my dog”) is the appositive. I’m with Quirk: I consider them both appositives.

I’m glad you’re enjoying Woe Is I Jr., which I tried to write in plain English without using technical terms like “appositives.”

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