I was wondering what (if any) punctuation needs to precede a proper noun in the following sentence:

The student John.

That is, there is a student named John, and I am referring to them as a student.
For example, "The student John likes reading."

Some solutions I surmised include "The student, John", or "The student: John."
But I don't know what is correct.

I'm guessing that The student John is correct, but I'd like a competent opinion.

Thank you so much to whoever can help explain this. Also, grammar criticisms of this post are highly welcome.

  • NB: “The student John” isn’t a sentence, and how you punctuate it depends partly on whether you are using “student” as a noun (I’d go for “student, John, likes ...”) or adjective (nothing needed), and partly on personal style. Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 2:48
  • Note that precede means to come before, not to follow. I believe you actually are talking about punctuation before the name—so it's your use of follow that's not right. And the student John (without the comma) is not only fine but required if there is more than a single student. Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 3:30
  • 1
    As Chappo says, you need to know what function these words have before we can say what punctuation options you have - but note that this kind of construction (the student John, the engineer Mike) is not as common in English as in some other languages. We would need a full sentence, but I'd say that if you mean to connect the fact that John likes reading with the fact that he is a student, it would be better to say John, who is a student, likes reading, and if you don't mean to make that connection, it is better not to mention that he is a student at all.
    – Minty
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 3:37

2 Answers 2


An appositive noun or noun phrase follows another noun or noun phrase in apposition to it; that is, it provides information that further identifies or defines it. Such “bonus facts” are framed by commas unless the appositive is restrictive (i.e., provides essential information about the noun).

ridiculously long URL hidden

You can do a web search on "restrictive clause" for more information. For instance, https://www.grammar.com/restrictive_vs._non-restrictive_adjective_clauses


You are asking for a competent opinion and I am not sure I can give that as I have no qualifications in English, but as someone who has been speaking British English natively for over 40 years hopefully I can help out a bit.

It sounds like you are trying to shorten the phrase, "The student named John", in which case I would use a comma to replace the word named. Used as part of a sentence you could then write something like "The student, John, corrected his brother's use of English."

Not using the comma leads to some ambiguity as it could mean the student named John but also the only person called John with the title Student, or even (but not at all likely) an unqualified toilet!

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