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Does this sentence need a comma? The bells were attached to the priestly garments not as an object of worship but as an object of purpose.

Lately, I have found myself wanting to use this sentence structure: something happened, not because of this, but this. I have refrained from doing so because I was not sure about proper comma usage in this situation. I have searched for an answer to this specific question on several sites and have not found an answer. I have seen several posts relating to “not only this, but also that,” but those posts do not seem to apply to my question. I would appreciate any help you can provide.

  • What is the question? Is it whether and where to use commas in this phrase? Please clarify. – Drew Jul 12 '16 at 17:33
  • Yes. That is the question. Does this sentence need a comma? The bells were attached to the priestly garments not as an object of worship but as an object of purpose. If it does, where should the comma(s) be and what rules apply to comma placement in this situation? – rolo Jul 12 '16 at 17:53
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I'd use the unpunctuated version as a corrective, when someone has claimed that the attaching of bells was to do with worship:

The bells were attached to the priestly garments not as an object of worship but as an object of purpose.

I'd use a comma or other punctuation for mere additional information

The bells were attached to the priestly garments, not as an object of worship but as an object of purpose.

or

The bells were attached to the priestly garments – not as an object of worship, but as an object of purpose.

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Here's a trick I learned in middle school - Not Necessary Needs Commas - if what you put between commas are not necessary, you're fine. So if the phrase "not as an object of worship" seems to be unnecessary in context, put commas around it.

  • But... if we remove the exact text we might deem "unnecessary" in OP's example, we're left with The bells were attached to the priestly garments as an object of purpose. So if we put back that text enclosed within commas, that would be The bells were attached to the priestly garments, not as an object of worship but, as an object of purpose, which obviously isn't right. – FumbleFingers Jul 12 '16 at 15:40
  • @FumbleFingers Maybe this trick can be generalized to check whether commas are necessary, but then the writer would have to consider which placement of the commas would be correct and natural. Thus, the conjunction after the phrase would be outside of the commas in most cases. – RK01 Jul 12 '16 at 15:46
  • Thank you for the replies. To use the unnecessary rule, shouldn’t the part of the sentence remaining outside of the commas be a proper sentence? If we place the second comma before the word but and remove the part inside the commas, the sentence would look like this. "The bells were attached to the priestly garments but as an object of purpose." As FumbleFingers points out, placing the comma after the word but is not correct either. The unnecessary rule does not appear to apply to this circumstance. – rolo Jul 12 '16 at 16:10
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    What I meant was that you can use the trick to see which area of the sentence needs commas, then that you need to go in and check which words should be included in the commas to make the sentence seem more natural. – RK01 Jul 12 '16 at 16:20

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