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Is "in fact" always set off by commas mid-sentence because it's a parenthetical interrupter? I see no need to use them. The only time we'd do so (I think) is with one comma after "in fact" when it starts a sentence: In fact, I think we should remind him of the possible repercussions.

Do you support the omission of commas around 'in fact' in the following three examples?

Examples:

Correct:? 1. Mike said that he did in fact support the new policy.

Correct? I was surprised and appalled by her actions when she did in fact curse my grandmother.

Correct? I will in fact question her about the theft.

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    The guidelines are that parentheticals 'need' setting off. However, with single-word pragmatic markers used medially they can certainly be omitted in some cases at least. (They can, certainly, also be included.) 'In fact' is a word longer than 'certainly', but I'd normally choose your versions. I might put them in to signal pauses in speech (in turn signalling contrast or emphasis) in 1 and – er – 3. Feb 27, 2014 at 16:27
  • I also think it hinges upon whether or not there is an increase or decrease in intonation. If there's a dip in intonation, use commas; if not, omit them. But who's to say, really? It depends on how the person reads it aloud. Feb 27, 2014 at 16:47
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    Though some would disagree with them, I think that many people are now championing the use of commas to convey more about the way a passage is meant to sound. Traditionalists will say that only the 'grammatical' usages of commas are allowed (though they might well state that punctuation isn't grammar). Feb 27, 2014 at 16:53
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    Commas are falling more and more out of favour - or are at least becoming more sparse. Some people only use them when they are necessary for clarity. Personally, I think it enables readability to offset "in fact" in all three examples, though they are not necessary in any of them. In fact the comma can even be omitted when "in fact" starts a sentence.
    – nxx
    Mar 12, 2014 at 23:22

3 Answers 3

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Do you support the omission of commas around 'in fact' in the following three examples?

This is somewhat of an opinion question, obviously, so the strict answer to the question in your title is, "No, commas are not always needed." Where they are needed is somewhat of a judgment call based on the intended meaning and the general flow of the sentence.

Part of the issue is that "in fact" can be moved all over the place in a sentence:

  1. Mike said that he did in fact support the new policy.

  2. Mike said that he, in fact, did support the new policy.

  3. Mike said that he did support the new policy, in fact.

The missing commas in (1) are understandable and not completely necessary. The commas in (2) are more necessary but I've seen people leave them out. (3)'s usage is a bit ambiguous (it could be modifying "Mike said" instead of "he did support") but the comma is very much necessary.

I was surprised and appalled by her actions when she did in fact curse my grandmother.

"In fact" is less needed here and will probably receive commas more frequently than your first example, simply because the inclusion of "in fact" doesn't do anything special on its own. It is more obviously a parenthetical note than the usage from your first example.

There isn't really a hard rule, here.

I will in fact question her about the theft.

This is probably the toughest of your three examples to answer and I suspect this will result in the most differing opinions. My opinion is that it sounds better with the commas:

I will, in fact, question her about the theft.

If I were to say or write this without commas I would probably end up removing "in fact" completely:

I will question her about the theft.

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All three of those sentences are awkward to the reader without commas.

In fact, "in fact" is superfluous language and those sentences would be better off without it anyway.

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    The second one really doesn’t need ‘in fact’, no; the third one might sound awkward in context without it; and the first would definitely sound awkward in context without it. In all three cases, though, the sentence would only be rendered more awkward by including commas. A sentence like “My father, Joseph, did in fact die, though my brother, Shawn, survived” would be immensely awkward if punctuated as “My father, Joseph, did, in fact, die, though my brother, Shawn, survived”. Feb 27, 2014 at 17:06
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    I didn't want to be presumptuous about the context. And yes, that is a very awkward sentence you have there. Sticking to the question at hand though, "supported the new policy", "when she cursed my grandmother" and "I will question her" are all improvements over the proposed sentences. I can accept that these suggestions don't really answer the question, but in general I find "in fact" to be unnecessary and often annoying. Feb 27, 2014 at 17:15
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    "in fact" adds distinct meaning and subtext. "I love my wife" and "I in fact love my wife" mean very subtly different things, with the latter implying some action which would cause the assertion to come into question.
    – DougM
    Feb 27, 2014 at 18:17
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    True, but it is often used where such an implication is not intended. Context is everything I guess. Feb 27, 2014 at 19:08
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There is a logical reason for including the commas. As Anonymous Man points out *in fact*s are superfluous, especially when their "parentheticality" is not reinforced by being set-off with commas. Another often-superfluous word, actually, is made more palatable when emphasized by being set-off. "I actually accept the fact that the comma is often abused." VS "I, actually, accept the fact that the comma is often abused." In short, if you can think about leaving the comma punctuation out, consider leaving the phrase out altogether. If the phrase is not "a parenthetical interrupter," it is simply not needed.

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