comma after 'if anything': its grip, and if anything has steadily


Senior Member
Censorship, of course, is not new in China. The government has never released its grip on the information industry, and if anything has steadily tightened supervision of the Chinese Web in the past couple of years. ---taken from the NYT

Dear all,

I am wondering whether there is a comma missing after the 'if anything'. Am I right? Thanks.

  • I believe it would be written as "and, if anything," with commas, but I'm not sure if they're necessary either.
    It seems like it should be a classic garden path sentence: you get to the end, fourteen words later, and realize that 'anything' wasn't the subject of 'has' and the 'then'-clause you were expecting isn't going to appear.

    However, in practice it reads okay without marking off 'if anything'. This must be such a common expression that we automatically read it correctly even when unmarked by commas. Which surprises me.

    The objection to putting two commas around it is the previous comma: you then have three in quick succession, which looks choppy. In this situation I prefer to drop the two surrounding commas if possible.

    The difference in pronunciation is subtle. If 'anything' is subject of 'has', it's all said at level pitch until a main accent later on (which could come in various places, but the primary possibility is 'Web'); but if 'if anything' is an adjunct, and 'has' has no subject, then 'if anything' is probably spoken with rising tone (without commas) or fall-rise (with commas).