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How would you punctuate the following?

A decent if long novel.

  1. As is.
  2. A decent, if long, novel.
  3. A decent, if long novel.

I feel uncomfortable leaving the "novel" dangling at the end of the sentence, and also think I'm littering the sentence with superfluous punctuation. However, if one eliminates the last comma, why not finish the job and remove the first one too?

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Options 1 and 2 are both fine; option 3 is wrong. – tchrist Jun 29 '13 at 22:14
up vote 2 down vote accepted

You ask, "How would you punctuate the following?" So, I'll tell you that I would punctuate it as you do in option 2. Abundant use of commas, as long as they are not grammatically incorrect, clarifies meaning for me.

However, it seems that fewer commas is the current trend. So, I will be in the minority. Option 1 will be the most popular.

Option 3 is incorrect. Someone with a better grasp of the rules will tell you the technical reasons. But, to me, the problem is that, punctuated that way--even though I know the answer-- the sentence makes me ask, "A decent what?" Also, "if long novel" is an annoying phrase.

(tchrist actually gave a nice, succinct, correct answer already, but only as a comment.)

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Option #2 is completely incorrect no matter where it appears in a complete sentence. Not having the rest of the sentence to refer to, I would guess that option #3 is correct; because the comma separates the coordinate adjective decent and the coordinate adjective phrase if long. Check this webpage out.

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The webpage correctly permits usage #2: 'if long' may be considered to be a parenthesis and thus amenable to being set off with commas (or parentheses or dashes). Usage #1 could be used without causing confusion - there is no need for a breather in the middle of 5 short words either. Option #3 is incorrect. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 29 '13 at 22:15

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