The Structure Comma with

Antithetical Elements


Among its four uses, the structure comma identifies elements that communicate an emphatic contrast from the rest of the sentence.

Use the Comma with Contrasting Phrases and Clauses

When a phrase or clause expresses a strong contrast from the rest of its sentence, separate it with a comma.

The communicated antithesis might be a contrast of coordinate elements:

The box contained old photographs,not old letters.

Similarly, a dependent clause might also express an emphatic contrast:

We won the match,although we played our worst so far this season.

Usually, a dependent clause does not receive a structure comma when it follows the independent clause in a complex sentence. Notice in the example above, however, that antithetical dependent clauses do use the comma.

Use the Comma with In-Sentence Revisions

Another type of antithesis drastically revises a previous part of the same sentence. Instead of contrasting with a previous communication in the sentence, this technique replaces or significantly alters that previous communication:

We won the match,in our dreams, anyway.
The fans excoriated the setter for three mis-hits,or would have if the team hadn’t quickly escaped.

An em-dash is sometimes used instead of a comma to emphasize the antithesis even more: We won the match—in our dreams, anyway.

Knowledge Check

Click on the option that correctly uses the comma with antithetical elements:

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