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Comma Before “not”: The Definitive Guide

Comma Before “not”: The Definitive Guide

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Previous studies have found that the negation of ideas is a more complex process than affirmation.

With that being said, it may lead to false retention of information in worst-case scenarios.

When information is falsely associated with, counter-productive effects may occur, especially in more serious cases such as legally-related ones.

In the crowded community of written words and paragraphs, the role of punctuation marks is integral in preventing misinformation.

Thus, understanding comma placement rules before the negationary adverb “not” is also equally salient.

Comma Before NOT

Do we need a comma before “not”?

In a general perspective, a pre-comma placement before “not” is unnecessary except for a couple of instances. Conspicuously speaking, default commas have to be inserted among words listed in series, which also applies to “not” when used serially. Meanwhile in stylistics, a comma would also be necessary before “not” when it is used as an initial parenthetical element. On the flip side, a comma is inessential when it normally functions as an adverb, a noun, or interjection.


Comma before not: In-depth analysis

A comma before not, albeit mostly unnecessary in regular sentence patterns, may be applicable in some cases.

To understand the pre-comma concern further, let’s look at the serial and parenthetical usages of not together with some examples.


“Not” in Series

In enumerating more than two entities in a sentence, commas are used to mark the separation of words and phrases from one another.

The serial comma or the Oxford comma may be seen before coordinating conjunctions (e.g, and, or, nor) in a list of lexical items.

The Oxford comma is optionally included in sentences.

When listing items, we are mentally prompted by the rule of threes which entails the idea of completeness, thereby creating a satisfaction effect.

This means that when not is part of an enumerated list, especially if it is the second item, a comma must come before it.

In English, ideas of negation may be marked by the usage of negative words such as none, not, and neither.


“Not” as part of a parenthetical

Sometimes, a writer inserts some ideas in the middle or at the end of a sentence.

These ideas are either accidentally or intentionally included for the sake of creating emphatic effects.

In stylistics, these thought insertions are referred to as parentheses or parenthetical elements.

Parentheticals are grammatically-disposable speech components that ought to be offset by commas.

Therefore, when not appears as the first parenthetical word, a pre-comma placement is always needed.

He’s a human being, not a walking encyclopedia, so he doesn’t know everything.
The Hagia Sophia is in Istanbul, not in Ankara.


Comma before other not-phrases

Now that we have understood which types of sentence formats necessitate the pre-comma insertion, let’s have look at some of the other commonly-used not-phrases.

Also, all of the not-phrases below are parenthetically used to create the idea of negation or exception for emphasis.


Not only

Simon, not only a comedian but also a law graduate, found a resourceful way around the controversial question thrown by the interviewer.


Not to mention

Damian’s rendition of the song “Searching” at the Maquinaria Festival in Chile is meatier, not to mention more instrumentally creative, than the original version.



The poor suspect, notwithstanding the insufficient evidence against him, was found guilty of second-degree homicide.


Not because

His request was denied, not because it’s invalid, but because the manager has some personal grudges against him.


Not even

She had never expected to win the lottery, not even in her wildest dreams.


Not limited to

The researchers found that perceived prejudice against all other minority groups, not limited to the sample population only, exists at a significant level.


When is a comma unnecessary before “not”

In its general sense, not is an adverb that can be used to modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs in sentences.

Aside from its adverbial function, it may also refer to a noun which means an inverting buffer in electronics.

Thirdly, it may also be used as a satirical catchword in American English, usually mentioned to reverse the implication of a former affirmative statement.


When “not”  is used as an adverb

Although not may be placed in various sentential positions, it is oftentimes situated adjacent to the verb to serve its negation purpose.

More specifically, it can be found either after auxiliary (e.g., would, will, must) or stative verbs (e.g., am, is, were) in simple past and present sentences 

You should not swallow the mouthwash!
Her parents are not happy with her decision.


When “not”  is used as a noun

In electronics, not is collocated with the word “gate.”

A “not gate” is an input device that inverts circuit flow.

This means that if the output level is at zero, then the input is at level one and vice versa.

In written texts, the letters are often capitalized (i.e., NOT) to prompt the readers of its nominal instead of its adverbial sense.

Thus, readers have to thereby note that the uppercase form does not represent an abbreviated word or phrase.

A NOT gate is otherwise called an inverter logic gate.


When “not”  is used as an interjection

The arbitrariness and novelty of languages allow humans to create some forms of entertainment and humor.

In North American English, not is also used as an interjectory catchword that implies jocose meaning.

It is typically stated after an affirmative declarative statement, together with a brief pause, to reverse its meaning.

This expression was also popularized by the British actor Sacha Baron Cohen in his movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Kazakhstan.

Since this word is not used within a clause, a comma is never expected to come before it.

A post-exclamation point must be used in marking its interjectory projection instead.

This suit is black. (pause) Not!
You perfectly fit in that dress. (pause) Not!



The word not may be used in numerous creative ways despite its simplicity.

It allows humans to express negation of ideas in a discourse which helps in the implication of exception or the absence of an entity.

When properly punctuated, it can facilitate the more accurate transmission of information, especially in written texts.

Information accuracy is nonetheless vital in avoiding any chances of misinterpretation, which is duly important in the effective communication process.