In a Math.SE question, I used the sentence:

“some two of these propositions are true and the third one is false”, or in other words, “exactly 2 of 3 propositions are true”

Here I used “or in other words” to rephrase a statement for better comprehension, but I didn’t use a comma after “or”. On the Net, I see people both using and omitting the comma in that phrase. What is the correct punctuation in the phrase “or in other words” and why?

  • 3
    The most common form would be to just ditch the redundant word "or" and replace it with a full stop. In other words, I think you're asking the wrong question. Aug 8, 2012 at 17:53
  • @FumbleFingers: What's the reason for that? Is it that a comma there would signify too little pause? Dec 30, 2019 at 22:49
  • @Mr Reality: There must have been dozens if not hundreds of ELU questions asking about whether a comma is needed or not. To which my stock response is If you would pause in speech, include a comma, otherwise don't. But the concept of Use a full stop for a longer pause has never occurred to me. Be honest though, don't you think my comment above would look a little "odd" if I'd used a comma instead of a full stop after the words "full stop"? Those last 10 words represent a complete (multi-clause) statement all on their own; they deserve the status of "independent sentence"! :) Dec 31, 2019 at 22:56
  • @FumbleFingers, Right, but I asked because we can put a semicolon instead there (and in the one in your comment) too, can't we -- since it also is a full-stop mark and is used to separate independent clauses?. Jan 1, 2020 at 2:22
  • @Mr Reality: Sure. It only took a few seconds to find this example of a semicolon separator before in other words in Google Books. To my mind, the punctuation choice here is about as relevant to real (spoken) language as choice of font. But returning to my original point, I'd say the choice of whether or not to include the word or is far more significant in terms of actual use of language. And even that's largely just a matter of "stylistic preference" (but I'd definitely ditch it! :) Jan 1, 2020 at 13:48

3 Answers 3


The comma after words needs to be complemented by one before in because in other words is an integral phrase interrupting the rest of the sentence.


Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses when the second clause begins with a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, moreover, furthermore, thus, meanwhile, nonetheless, otherwise) or a transition (in fact, for example, that is, for instance, in addition, in other words, on the other hand, even so).

Terrorism in the United States has become a recent concern; in fact, the concern for America's safety has led to an awareness of global terrorism.

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/566/01/ Retrieved on Mar 11, 2013. 11:02 am


'or in other words', is an integral expression therefore it's reasonable that the commas are placed before it and after it - 'something, or in other words, something else'.

It's true that for many this issue is a conundrum and we can find on the Net versions where there's a comma also after the 'or' - but when translating this into the language of formal logic, we can see it produces an inconsistency, breaks the logical flow.

It is also a widely used standard to simply divide the long sentence into two - 'something. In other words, something else', although in my opinion it is deprived of a certain oratorical charm it has when used in a long sentence.

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