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This is the sentence in question:

To research the book, See traveled to a remote area of China that, she was told only one other foreigner ever to visit before her had ever visited.

I understand how to use parenthetical commas and I think this is an example of using those commas. I feel quite confident that there should be a comma before "only" so that it would read..."remote area of China that, she was told, only one other foreigner"

Edit: comma before only

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    You mean the comma should appear before "only". And you are correct. – Hot Licks Aug 10 '17 at 12:31
  • I'd say the larger parenthetical element includes the word that, so if you want to include an (optional) comma, it should go after China. – FumbleFingers Aug 10 '17 at 12:38
  • @FumbleFingers I'm almost certain that's not correct – bendl Aug 10 '17 at 12:39
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    @bendl: I'm almost certain what we have here is one parenthetical element (she was told) nested inside another (everything after China). So far as I'm concerned all the commas are optional (but if the inner one is demarcated it needs a matched pair). Consider the text if you remove optional she was told. You could still treat what remains as another parenthetical element (for which only one comma is required, since it comes at the end of the sentence). – FumbleFingers Aug 10 '17 at 12:45
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    Looks like a restrictive clause modifying the noun 'area', which does not draw commas. I see one reason for the original redundancy -- only one other foreigner ever to visit (in China) before her had ever visited (that remote area). I'd cut this right down to "only one other foreigner had ever visited." – Yosef Baskin Aug 10 '17 at 14:11
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Your correction is correct. The full sentence can be written:

To research the book, See traveled to a remote area of China that, she was told, only one other foreigner ever to visit before her had ever visited.

The end of the sentence is also redundant and the redundancy should be removed:

To research the book, See traveled to a remote area of China that, she was told, only one other foreigner ever to visit before her had ever visited.

The original sentence, without the comma after told, was incorrect. A good way to check yourself with parenthetical commas is to remove everything between the commas and check if the sentence still makes sense.

For example: See traveled to a remote area of China that, she was told, only one other foreigner before her had ever visited.

Becomes: See traveled to a remote area of China that only one other foreigner before her had ever visited.

  • Thank you for the sanity check. The book actually had the wrong answer. – HeyDoeFarm Aug 10 '17 at 12:42
  • Just to add to this excellent answer, it's better with two commas than none. ie, "To research the book, See traveled to a remote area of China that, she was told, only one other foreigner ever to visit before her had ever visited." is better than "To research the book, See traveled to a remote area of China that she was told only one other foreigner ever to visit before her had ever visited.". The commas help break the sentence up into easier-to-parse chunks, and they also represent the slight pauses that a speaker might insert when reading the sentence. – Max Williams Aug 10 '17 at 19:21

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