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?

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    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. – FumbleFingers Aug 8 '12 at 17:53

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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