He was born at Alexandria, son of Mnesitheus. The dates for his life are not known. His son Aelius Herodianus dedicated a work to Marcus Aurelius, which places Apollonius in the early to middle 2nd century.
Nicknamed Δύσκολος, meaning "Surly" or "Grouchy" or "Hard to Get Along With," because of his irascible and heavily analytical personality, he lived in the reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. He spent the greater part of his life in his native city of Alexandria, where he died; he is also said to have visited Rome and attracted the attention of Antoninus. He was the founder of scientific grammar, and is styled by Priscian grammaticorum princeps ("prince of grammarians"). He wrote extensively on the parts of speech. Of the twenty books named in the Suda, four are extant: on syntax, ed. J. Lallot, 1997, and three smaller treatises: on adverbs, on conjunctions, and on pronouns, ed. Richard Schneider, 1878.
He and his son Aelius Herodianus had an enormous influence on all later grammarians.