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[...] which, to me, has a strong [...]

Provided that the excerpt above is correct regarding the commas, can I omit them? As in:

[...] which to me has a strong [...]

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    I don't think the commas (or lack thereof) matter at all. They both mean the same thing. To me is akin to saying personally, so it does modify the verb ("to what extent"). At least, I think that if universally modifies extent, so does to me. Aug 12, 2014 at 10:26
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    to me becomes parenthetical with commas setting it apart from the main sentence, and therefore amounts to a separate assertion. "... which to me has a strong ..." merely makes a statement, while "... which, to me, has a strong ..." stresses on the idea "as far as I am concerned" or such. Use as required.
    – Kris
    Aug 12, 2014 at 12:01
  • @medica Commas are not grammar. However, they have semantic/ pragmatic significance.
    – Kris
    Aug 12, 2014 at 12:02
  • @Kris - Fair enough! I hadn't considered it that way. Glad you did. :) Aug 12, 2014 at 12:39

1 Answer 1

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My default position would be to keep the commas, on the theory that "to me" functions here as a truncated form of the phrase "it seems to me." If the rest of the sentence were reasonably simple, you wouldn't—that is to say, I wouldn't—leave the phrase "it seems to me" unpunctuated if it were swapped into your original example:

[...] which it seems to me has a strong [...]

but would instead break it out with commas:

[...] which, it seems to me, has a strong [...]

because it is an interpolated attribution of opinion in the midst of what would otherwise read as a statement of fact. But that being the case, I would handle the shorter form in the same way.

Admittedly, my views about what punctuation was appropriate might change if, for example, the phrase in your example were part of a very long and complex sentence that already employed multiple commas to break out logical blocks of components. But in that case I would also check to see whether I could shift some of the heavy lifting from commas to parentheses or em-dashes.

Ultimately, the appropriate punctuation to use depends on the context provided by the rest of the sentence; you can't make a well-informed choice about comma placement without knowing what else is going on nearby.

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  • I don’t think to me here is necessarily a truncation of “it seems to me”. There are other similar simple prepositional phrases that would do the job just the same (though not necessarily in the exact same sentence, of course) and are more obviously not truncations: in my view, to my ear, according to me, etc. Also, even if it is a truncated sentence, the commas still make it parenthetical rather than integral, and both are equally fine to me. Compare “[…] which I believe has a strong […]” vs. “[…] which, I believe, has a strong […]”. Jan 7, 2015 at 11:00

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