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The following quote from Anthony Burgess has a comma after it:

There is, in fact, not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in your chief character or characters.

But this quote from William S. Burroughs doesn't:

There is in fact something obscene and sinister about photography, a desire to imprison, to incorporate, a sexual intensity of pursuit.

When should you use a comma after "there is in fact"?

Is it necessary to put a comma after "there is in fact"?

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    It's just a stylistic choice, exactly the same as it would be with, for example, perhaps, or obviously. Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 16:52
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    I would prefer the commas, but the world won't end if they are omitted.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 17:45
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    It is necessary if you choose to include the comma before 'in fact'. 'In fact' is a pragmatic marker (of emphasis / reinforcing a negation), a parenthetical. The options of setting it off with dashes or brackets are not really available here; to misquote Barbara Wallraff, 'punctuating this sentence with these would be like using a C-clamp to hold a sandwich together.' There is, in fact, no need to set off such a mild interrupter with any form of punctuation (I chose to in this sentence as I consider the contrast achieved preferable in this case). Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 18:40
  • ... On reading through your example sentences, I'd probably punctuate exactly the way the authors have done, reflecting the pauses I'd insert in reading. (With extra commas, the second example seems too disjointed overall. And it gets harder to parse: dashes might be a better option '... – a desire to imprison, to incorporate – ...'). Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 18:46
  • Try saying it. Do you pause?
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 17:55

2 Answers 2

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According to Chicago (via ncsu.edu):

Chicago Manual of Style 5.69: "When [transitional adverbs] are used in such a way that there is no real break in continuity and no call for any pause in reading, commas should be omitted."

Chicago gives four examples: (1) The storehouse was indeed empty; (2) I therefore urge you all to remain loyal; (3) Wilcox was perhaps a bit too hasty in his judgment; (4) Palmerson was in fact the chairman of the committee.

(Emphasis added.)

Arguably this means that you could punctuate it either with or without a pair of commas, depending on how much of a break or pause you see.

Other style guides will rule differently.

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I would omit "in fact" completely. It is one of those overused expressions that can unintentionally make you sound like a hack. If you re-examine your sentence, you will almost always find that "in fact" adds nothing to your meaning and can safely be purged.

The Unversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) has a useful handout that I have given to students before.

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  • I understand the need some people feel to omit the expression completely on the basis that it doesn't add to the meaning. But it lends to the actual meaning the author is trying to convey, doing so through emphasis. In news pieces it should be omitted, in opinion pieces it should not, in fiction it should not, in historical writing it MUST not because the author has a unique perspective which can only be shared by selective emphasis.
    – Rex Hamann
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 1:55

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