Humans are rational beings in general, thereby entailing the consideration for truth value evaluations in utterances.
To express these observations, we use words either to judge the content of statements, or to attach our own mood or emotion towards them.
These words are linguistically known as disjuncts or disjunctive adverbials which are essential in adding some amount of objectivity in propositions or arguments.
Read on to understand more about the disjunctive adverb “in fact” and how to appropriately punctuate it with commas in writing.
Is a comma necessary before “in fact”?
A comma is necessary before “in fact” when it is used as the first word in a parenthetical statement or used after a parenthesis located mid-sentence. A pre-comma is similarly placed when it functions as a disjunctive adverbial positioned at the end of the sentence.
Should there be a comma after “in fact”?
On the flip side, a comma should instead come after “in fact” when it serves as a sentence-initial disjunct. The post-comma rule also applies when it is used as the last word in a frontal dependent clause in a complex sentence, or when it ends the first independent clause in a compound sentence. Lastly, an after-comma is essentially inserted when it is used as the last word in a medial parenthetical expression.
The comma before “in fact”
The disjunctive adverbial “in fact” is typically used to express a speaker or a writer’s assumption with regards to the truthfulness or validity of a statement.
It denotes a slightly more formalistic meaning than “really,” yet it is also more casual than “as observed in” which is more likely used in non-colloquial writing.
A comma before “in fact” is applicable in a few sentence formats such as when it starts a parenthetical expression, follows a parenthesis, or is used as a disjunct at the end of a sentence.
Let’s talk further about each case in the next subsections.
When it appears in a parenthetical-initial position
Parenthetical statements are auxiliary speech devices used to clarify, digress, understate, or add humor to an utterance.
Put more simply, these are persuasive instruments in discourse that add further meaning to a sentence.
Since parentheses are deemed as “speech accessories” per se, then they are grammatically-disposable in writing.
This further means that removing the parenthetical expression does not affect the sentence structure, although the emphasis of the statement would be reduced in doing so.
As parentheses are peripheral discourse supplements, they can be as short as a single word or a phrase, or even longer like fragments and clauses.
To clearly represent parenthetical elements in texts, commas are used to encapsulate them.
Hence, a comma should come before “in fact” when it serves as the introductory expression in a parenthetical interruption.
When it is used after a parenthesis
Now that the comma-related parenthetical rules have been laid out, this section should be easier to understand.
To note again, comma encapsulation is crucial in segregating the auxiliary parenthetical expressions from the rest of a sentence.
Therefore, when further information starting with “in fact” follows the parenthetical statement, the closing comma should also precede the succeeding clause.
The oddity in his voice, which is almost Geddy Lee-ish, in fact gave him leverage against the other contestants.
The parenthesis above, in addition, is also known as a nonrestrictive adjective clause which is used to define the subject further.
When this clause is taken out, the remaining words should still be able to constitute a complete thought, although no longer using the comma in the process.
The oddity in his voice in fact gave him leverage against the other contestants.
When it is used as a sentence-final disjunct
Referring back to the earlier part of this post, “in fact” is syntactically recognized as an adverbial disjunct synonymous with really, actually, or indeed.
In particular, it is classified as a content disjunct whose role relates to the truth evaluation of an utterance, as per the speaker or the writer’s reference point.
The other most prevalently-used content disjuncts are apparently, obviously, and basically, and they are usually found at the beginning of the sentence.
Although most disjuncts are placed at the initial part of the sentence, they may also be found at the end preceded with a comma.
Thus, this type of sentence construction necessitates the pre-comma insertion when “in fact” is located in the sentence-final position.
Disjuncts are also grammatically-dispensable and are hence functionally similar to parenthetical expressions.
The comma after “in fact”
This section provides the after-comma guidelines which are also vital in disambiguating the meaning of sentences.
When “in fact” is used as a sentence-initial disjunct, or simply an introductory expression, a post-comma is necessary.
A succeeding comma is also placed when it is used as the last word either in a frontal dependent clause in a complex sentence, or the frontal independent clause in a compound sentence.
Lastly, a comma should similarly come after “in fact” when it serves as the final word in a mid-sentence parenthesis.
When it is used as a sentence-initial disjunct
“In fact” used as a sentence-initial disjunct or introductory phrase is more frequently used than the sentence-final position.
Disjunctive and other introductory statements are naturally set off with commas to facilitate clarity and distinction from the main information in the sentence.
Removing the disjunct in the sentence above, again, would not hurt the grammaticality of the sentence.
However, the thought connection and mood would be lost if it were a part of a longer paragraph with more contextual meaning.
When it is used as the last word in a frontal dependent clause
The guideline in this subsection is related to the type of sentences according to structural form.
A complex sentence contains at least one dependent and one independent clause connected with a subordinating conjunction.
When a dependent clause comes prior to the independent clause, a comma should separate them.
It, therefore, follows that an after-comma must be placed when “in fact” is used at the end of a frontal dependent clause.
Note, though, that the comma should be omitted if the clausal order was reversed.
When it ends in the first clause in a compound sentence
Another sentence type according to form is a compound sentence which is composed of two independent clauses linked by a coordinating conjunction.
The rule of thumb is to always cut the two clauses with a comma before the conjunction to mark their independence from each other.
Thus, using “in fact” at the end of the first independent clause should necessitate a post-comma placement as well.
When it is used as the last word in a parenthesis
Recapping on parentheses which are to be enclosed with commas, the same rule applies when “in fact” serves as the last word in the auxiliary statement.
As you may have guessed by now, grammatically-superfluous yet rhetorically-beneficial expressions are to be offset with commas in sentences.
This is to remove any chances of obscurity which may be induced by these additional details that may deviate from the syntactical flow of the sentence.
Encapsulating “in fact” with commas on both sides
As stated some sections ago, a parenthesis may also be a single-word or a short phrasal expression.
The phrasal adverbial disjunct “in fact” may be surrounded by two adjacent commas when the writer intends to insert the expression peripherally rather than restrictively.
Non-living objects such as cutting boards and soil, in fact, also serve as reservoirs for infectious pathogens.
Since “in fact” is parenthetically used in the sentence above, it may be removed and yet still form a complete sentence.
When are commas unnecessary with “in fact”?
The last set of guidelines explains when commas become insignificant before and after “in fact.”
This rule is applicable when it premodifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb in the sentence.
The same is also true when “in fact” is used as a weak interrupter particularly in less formal writing registers.
Modifying a verb
When “in fact” is conveniently used as a substitute for “really,” it means that it can also function as a general lexical adverb that has the basic function of modifying verbs.
A quick hack to remember the function of adverbs in English grammar is to think that they are “adjectives for verbs,” and hence the name.
In modifying verbs, adverbs should be placed before the main verb in simple tenses or between the auxiliary and the main verb.
Adverbs modifying verbs direct the modification focus toward the verb used rather than any other sentence elements.
Modifying an adjective
Identically, commas are also nonetheless inessential when “in fact” premodifies adjectives, which is another basic adverbial function.
Placing “in fact” in front of the adjective shifts the emphatic effect towards the word or words being modified rather than the verb or other sentence elements.
The emphatic effect of “in fact” is directed towards the adjectives that complement the prior action, which is vaguely mentioned in the example.
Modifying another adverb
The flexibility of adverbs allow them to modify co-adverbs, which is commonly observed with adverbs of emphasis or intensifiers.
However, adverbs are also composed of vague deictic words such as here, there, anywhere and everywhere.
Commas are not used either when constructing the sentence this way.
The example below exhibits the modifying ability of “in fact” directed towards the spatial adverb here, which is also pragmatically known as spatial deixis.
Spatial deixis are words that denote locations that are relative to a speaker or writer’s perspective, and thus are difficult to understand without background context.
When the interruption is weak
Finally, comma deletion is in fact admissible in colloquial or conversational writing such as in dialogues or scripts.
Comma omission invariably occurs especially when the interruption is too weak to cause any form of misinterpretation to the reader.
This is also true when the comma placement would ruin the cadence or rhythm of rather short, nondisruptive statements like the last example below.
The discomfort towards punctuation guidelines is a natural phenomenon which entails the idea that linguistic development thrives along with human civilization.
Thus, punctuation marks should not be viewed as threatening nor complicated writing tools, but rather as effective instruments that facilitate disambiguation of meaning.
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