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The boy's innate goodness will withstand the challenges because unless he himself wants to turn evil, [...].

My teacher thinks that commas should set off the word "himself", but I disagree. Who is right, and why?

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'because unless'... what? Either the word "because" is unnecessary, or there needs to be more to the sentence. – Marthaª Oct 19 '10 at 20:37
[...] continues it – Claudiu Oct 19 '10 at 20:39
Not getting into "he himself", there should definitely be a comma after because: "unless he himself wants to turn evil" is interrupting the clause beginning with because – Kosmonaut Oct 19 '10 at 22:33
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think a comma would be wrong there.

(Deletes justification on the basis of it being a rearrangement of "he wants himself to turn evil", which is wrong because "he himself wants Fred to turn evil" is just as valid a sentence. At least I realised that before I posted.)

"Himself" here is actually an intensifier rather than a reflexive pronoun (the World Atlas of Language Structures notes that they are often identical). As such it very much belongs with the noun phrase it is intensifying ("He"), and splitting them with a comma would weaken that relationship.

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I don't think commas are necessary here, but they could serve to emphasize that phrase.

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The best way to resolve such doubts is the referrence to English corpus: http://corpus2.byu.edu/coca/ - AmE, you need to sign up; http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/ - BrE, you do not need to sign up. By the way, your teacher was right, you don't have to put commas before and after himself:)

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