- My neighbor, a Bostonian, has been in California for six years.
- My neighbor, who is a Bostonian, has been in California for six years.
Both of the above sentences mean exactly the same thing, and they are both written correctly. The first sentence uses an appositive (a Bostonian), and the second sentence uses a clause (who is a Bostonian — a clause because it has both a subject, who, and a verb, is )
It is just matter of choice which way you want to write a particular sentence.
We have discussed previously in this blog (probably numerous times) essential versus nonessential clauses. Well, appositives are also essential or nonessential, which is why sometimes there are commas around an appositive and sometimes there aren’t.
Here are some sentences with appositives:
- My mother, Gina, works for the school department.
- The dog running down the street belongs to my friend.
- The book on the top shelf was written by my aunt.
- My brother Ed is running for mayor.
- My brother, Ed, is running for mayor.
Let’s look at the commas (or lack thereof) in those sentences.
- If you say your mother, we know you are talking about your mother, and we assume you have just one, so we know whom you mean. Her name is additional information and is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Therefore, Gina is set off with commas.
- We don’t know which dog belongs to your friend. You are identifying the dog by saying it is the one running down the street. It limits the dog you are talking about and is essential to the meaning of the sentence. Take it out and the sentence is unclear. Yes, there might be instances where that phrase might be nonessential (you are both watching the dog running down the street, in which case you might say, That dog, running down the street, belongs to my friend), but I think we can safely say the phrase is taken to be essential in that sentence.
- Pointing out the location of the book you are talking about is essential to the meaning of the sentence. Which book is written by your aunt? The one on the top shelf. That sentence also assumes there is only one book on the top shelf. Otherwise, further description is required.
- Sentence 4 is the same as sentence 5 except for the commas. Both sentences are correct in certain situations, but they imply different things. In sentence #4 there are no commas around Ed. Therefore, Ed is essential to the sentence. Why would Ed be essential to describing your brother? (Answer: You have more than one brother, so you need to clarify which brother you are talking about here.)
- Now that you have read the previous explanation, you know why there are commas here. You have only one brother, and his name is Ed. Therefore, his name is additional information and not needed for the meaning of the sentence.
Most people do not pay attention to the distinction between #4 and #5, and usually no one notices and everyone understands. But just in case you want to be precise . . .