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I’m writing something and I’ve decided to take out the comma in the following sentence: “He would let his lover construct, if not talk in complete openness about a life of his own.” Originally there was a comma after “about,” but I decided that it sounded too awkward to pause it there. Yesterday a bunch of friends came over and I took up the topic with them, and they all told me to include it. I personally am opposed, and now not a small bit torn. Opinions? Thanks!

closed as off-topic by lbf, Mark Beadles, Scott, J. Taylor, David Nov 12 '18 at 23:00

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  • What's the object of the verb "construct"? Be it prepositional (intransitive) or not. You're omitting that completely in your sentence as you cannot separate verb-object phrases with commas. The sentence is missing critical information in the way you have it written currently. And are you aware of the meaning of "if not"? Just trying to point you in the right direction. – Lucidity of Power Nov 11 '18 at 19:32
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    Add the comma. It's necessary. Without it, the reader has to back up and re-read the sentence to work out what the complement of construct is. Even with the comma, it's still awkward - the phrase "in complete openness" creates too great a distance from verb to object. – Chappo Nov 12 '18 at 2:41
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Commas are not used only for pauses in speech. They also serve a syntactic function.

You really can't remove that comma without making the sentence extremely awkward, if not actually ungrammatical.

He would let his lover construct if not talk in complete openness about a life of his own.

I am considering the portion that has been stricken out as parenthetical and nonessential.

Without rephrasing the sentence, it can be punctuated in a few different ways—including how it was originally punctuated:

He would let his lover construct (if not talk in complete openness about) a life of his own.
He would let his lover construct—if not talk in complete openness about—a life of his own.
He would let his lover construct, if not talk in complete openness about, a life of his own.

If the information comes in the middle of the sentence, it needs to be enclosed in a pair of punctuation marks.


If you mean for the information to be nonessential but you don't want to include it parenthetically, you need to restructure the sentence in some way.

One of the following would work:

He would let his lover construct a life of his own, if not talk about it in complete openness.
Even if not able to talk about it in complete openness, he would at least let his lover construct a life of his own.


But if you want the information to be essential to the meaning of the sentence, remove both of the commas and rephrase it.

Something like one of the following constructions would work:

He would let his lover construct a life of his own and talk about it openly.
He would not only let his lover construct a life of his own but also let him talk about it in complete openness.


If you simply remove one of the commas and leave the information in the middle of the sentence, it no longer makes sense.

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