comma use: primary, if not sole, motivation

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gramman

Senior Member
I have another enquiry. Please someone scold me if this is asking for copyediting. It's a service I try to sell, so of course I have no clear idea of what it constitutes.

Is the second comma a good idea in this sentence:

I'd say his primary, if not sole, motivation was to do what politicians love to do — claim victory.

Should it be rewritten?

Thanks as always.
 
  • Liam Lew's

    Senior Member
    I find the punctuation a bit odd. However, I'm everything but an expert on English punctuation.
    I'd punctuate the sentence as follows:
    I'd say his primary [motivation], if not [his] sole motivation, was to do what politicians love to do claim victory.

    I'm open to objection.
     
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    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I would leave the punctuation as it is. The commas mark an inserted phrase that could be dropped out, and still have a grammatically complete sentence. In fact it needs to be skipped over in order to understand the grammar of the first part of the sentence.

    I'd say his primary ... motivation was to do what politicians love to do — claim victory.

    A more conventional order would be:

    I'd say his primary motivation (if not his sole motivation) was to do what politicians love to do — claim victory.
    The 'if clause' has been moved forward, and condensed to make use of parallel construction. In effect, 'motivation' is used twice.
    I'd say his primary, if not his sole motivation, motivation, was to do what politicians love to do — claim victory.
    I'd say his primary, if not sole, motivation, was to do what politicians love to do — claim victory.

    It is a construction available to English, though it is somewhat formal or literary.
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    Hey

    Thank as always for the suggestions and useful information. Sadly, I'm still left unhappy with the sentence. "Somewhat formal or literary" I can live with, but this just seems really awkward to me.

    I'm thinking that with all the skilled writers in town, I want to simply ask if anyone can spit out a construction that doesn't make me wince when I read it. A peaceful settlement of the current negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program may be at stake, so it's for a good cause. I've lately moved from my usual state of sleep-deprived to more or less completely disoriented, so I apologize if I'm coming across as incoherent.

    +++++

    I just noticed, Cagey, that you've added a comma after "motivation." This does seem like an improvement. I'll take a nap and have another look at it. I almost feel like I want to remove all the commas; that may be the way I internally vocalize it. I think I'm losing my mind.
     
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