Skip to Content

“Most if not all”: Does This Expression Need Commas?

“Most if not all”: Does This Expression Need Commas?

There are some standard phrases that you are going to come across time and again.

For instance, I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Excuse me, but …,” which is a simple way of grabbing someone’s attention without seeming too intrusive.

You can follow that phrase with a request, a question, or any other “imposition.” You will often use this phrase with strangers or with people you know if you’re being sarcastic.

Another phrase you might be familiar with is “I really appreciate ….” This is just another way of saying thank you.

However, it gives you room to be more personal and to explain exactly what it is you are thankful for.

That said, these expressions may be tricky when it comes to punctuation.

Take, for instance, the phrase “most if not all.” When writing it, does it require any special punctuation, or should it just be written like any other group of words?

 

Does “most if not all” require commas?

Yes, “most if not all” does require commas. You will have to put a comma before the “if” and another one after the “all.”

In writing, this is what it will look like.

Most, if not all, of my classmates went on to leave our hometown and live in a different city.

 

Why do you need to use commas with “most, if not all”?

First off, let’s start with understanding what this phrase means.

You use this phrase when trying to quantify something. This is why it starts with the quantifier “most.”


Most of my work experience revolves around writing code.

 

In the above sentence, the author is saying that the majority of their work experience can be boiled down to coding. Nevertheless, there is also an implicit assumption in the above sentence.

The assumption is that even though it may be meager, the author has also done work outside the realm of coding.

Now, let’s suppose that you are unsure whether most or all of your work experiences involve coding. This is when our expression comes in.

 

Most, if not all, of my work experience revolves around writing code.

 

Ergo, if “most of my work experiences” means that around 70 to 80 percent of my work experience, then “most if not all” would bump up these numbers up to 90 to 100 percent.

So, why the comma?

Simply put, “if not all” is an interjectory statement, and you always surround interjectory statements with commas.

Here are a couple of other sentences with interjectory statements that you get a better sense of what I’m talking about.


All the books, both the paperbacks and the hardbacks, were donated to the library.


The news, pleasant as it was, didn’t cheer us much.

 

As you can tell, an interjectory statement can be removed from the middle of a sentence without affecting the overall meaning much.

This is the case with “if not all.” You could remove it, and the sentence would still be intact.

Let’s look at a couple of more examples involving “most, if not all.”


The earthquake decimated most, if not all, of the buildings in the town.


The girl aced most, if not all, of her exams.

 

The closely related cousin “most, not all”

“Most, if not all” has a very close cousin “most, not all.”

Why am I calling them cousins and not siblings?

Well, the reason is that they have very different meanings.

Whereas “most, if not all” lets us know that a large majority, bordering on the entirety of a group, took part in a certain action or shared a certain quality in common, “most, not all” makes it clear that while something does apply to a large majority, it doesn’t apply to the entire group.

These two phrases aren’t necessarily antonyms, yet they do give different meanings.

 

Example:

Most, not all, of my classmates went on to leave our hometown and live in a different city.

 

The above statement makes it clear that there are still a few classmates hanging around in your hometown. It isn’t implied here. It is clearly stated.

And, as you may have noticed, you surround the “not all” portion with commas on both sides because it is also an interjectory statement.