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How would you punctuate this, and why?

Ross at Play

An author has asked me how to punctuate this sentence:
I have a cautious if not sincere respect for law enforcement.

I sounds okay to me with no punctuation. My problem is I cannot find reasons to justify NOT using commas and/or hyphens within the adjectival phrase 'cautious if not sincere'.
Please do not suggest alternative wordings for the sentence. I'm only interested in how you would choose to punctuate these words.

Ross at Play

Attempting to answer my own question ...
My reasoning would be replacing 'if' with 'and' should not affect the punctuation, and I would then feel obliged to hyphenate 'not-sincere'.
I think the rules require 'cautious if not-sincere', but that doesn't feel right, although I don't know why.

Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

I have a cautious if not sincere respect for law enforcement.


I'd write it as:

I have a cautious, if not sincere, respect for law enforcement.

Because I see the phrase if not sincere as being a modifier, and most modifier clauses should be shown in commas. I sometimes call this explanatory clauses to assist in identifying what they actually do.

awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

I have a cautious, if not sincere, respect for law enforcement.


Agreed. You can remove the clause in its entirety and the remainder still makes sense: I have a cautious respect for law enforcement.

AJ

Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

I sometimes call this explanatory clauses

So it's just another 'nonrestrictive appositive'? - a detour providing some nonessential detail.
I could see how it could be treated like that. My first comment to the author was they were allowed to put 'if not sincere' inside parentheses, and therefore they could put it inside two commas instead (but not just one).
The thing that threw me was I see this used a lot to add details about a noun (phrase), but I'd never noticed it used to modify an adjective within a noun phrase. I suppose if a sentence still makes sense when doing it, it makes sense you are allowed to do it.
The Wiki entry on 'apposition' confirms what you and AJ suggest, that it does not apply exclusively to noun phrases. That states, with my emphasis:
"Apposition is a grammatical construction in which two elements, normally noun phrases, are placed side by side, with one element serving to identify the other in a different way."

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Because I see the phrase if not sincere as being a modifier, and most modifier clauses should be shown in commas. I sometimes call this explanatory clauses to assist in identifying what they actually do.

The reason why qualifiers get set aside (with commas) is because they often run counter to the main point of the sentence, and thus you 'remove' them from the main part of the sentence to show that they're separate thoughts. In fact, I'd be tempted to use em-dashes simply to highlight the qualifier more.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

In fact, I'd be tempted to use em-dashes simply to highlight the qualifier more.

From all I recall seeing, there is technically no difference at all between using parentheses, or either commas or em-dashes in pairs.
For example, Oxford University has a 'Style Guide' (for student papers and internal staff use) which uses exactly the same sentence as an example for using all three of them.
There does not seem to be any rules about which to use, just that em-dashes/parentheses act to stress the importance of the extra information more/less than commas.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

From all I recall seeing, there is technically no difference at all between using parentheses, or either commas or em-dashes in pairs.

Parentheses are primarily used in non-fiction. They're rarely seen in fiction. The em-dash isn't strictly necessary, but helps to set something out as a side or powerful side-statement, and thus adds strength to the modification.

Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

a detour providing some nonessential detail.


I'd say it's more a case of providing detail. Yes, often it isn't essential, but it's usually important for some reason. If it didn't have a place in the story it shouldn't be there at all.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

The reason why qualifiers get set aside (with commas) is because they often run counter to the main point of the sentence, and thus you 'remove' them from the main part of the sentence to show that they're separate thoughts. In fact, I'd be tempted to use em-dashes simply to highlight the qualifier more.


I see this information along the same lines as when you right something like:

He went to visit John Nolan, his wife's father. to discuss the ...

It's a detail that isn't absolutely essential, but is very helpful to describe something. That something can be a relationship, or reasoning behind something, or whatever it is you want to explain at that point.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

It's a detail that isn't absolutely essential, but is very helpful to describe something. That something can be a relationship, or reasoning behind something, or whatever it is you want to explain at that point.

As Ernest stated, such details are rarely "nonessetnial". Instead, they more often foreshadow future events, and thus you (the author) want readers to notice them. Instead or being 'non-essential', they are outside the main scope of the sentence, and thus you separate them from the main sentence so the idea will stand on it's own (in relation to the larger sentence).

Essentially, the statement wouldn't (or shouldn't) be made if it wasn't essential to the story, and it wouldn't be added to the sentence if it didn't immediately relate to the rest of the sentence. However, that doesn't mean they should be excluded either. How much you want to emphasize it (i.e. whether it warrants an em-dash or not) is ultimately up to each author.

Switch Blayde

It's not a question of being "essential." If it isn't essential it shouldn't be there. But if the sentence makes sense without it, then you put the commas around it.

Replies:   REP
Ross at Play
Updated:

To EB & CW
I agree with both of you here about what to do with it and why.
I think this example is correctly classified as a 'non-restrictive appositive'.
I used "non-essential" only because that term confuses so many people.

EDIT TO ADD:
Thank you, SB. That is precisely what I meant.

sejintenej

@Ross at Play

I have a cautious if INsincere respect for law enforcement.

Ross at Play

@sejintenej

That's what I would do, but for the purposes of this thread (the opening post) I asked specifically about how to punctuate the words as originally written, not about possible better wordings.

awnlee jawking

@sejintenej

Interesting. The sentence is ambiguous. It could mean the respect is cautious but not sincere. It could also mean the respect is cautious but tending towards sincere.

The author should rewrite it to remove the ambiguity.

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Interesting. The sentence is ambiguous. It could mean the respect is cautious but not sincere. It could also mean the respect is cautious but tending towards sincere.
The author should rewrite it to remove the ambiguity.

I agree such an interpretation of 'if not' exists, but not in this case. I think it only applies when you have adjectives on the same scale, for example, 'good, if not great' meaning better than average for good, but not enough to get into the great.
***
I am curious how others would punctuate 'cautious if insincere respect'.
My view would be that 'cautious and insincere respect' is obviously correct, and there's no reason to change punctuation simple because the conjunction joining the two adjectives is changed from 'and' to 'if'.

awnlee jawking
Updated:

@Ross at Play

Cautious -> Sincere -> Unquestioning

(Degrees of confidence in the respect)

AJ

StarFleet Carl

@Ernest Bywater

I see the phrase if not sincere as being a modifier


Exactly, what Ernest said, and that's how I would punctuate it.

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Interesting. The sentence is ambiguous. It could mean the respect is cautious but not sincere. It could also mean the respect is cautious but tending towards sincere.
The author should rewrite it to remove the ambiguity.


I agree such an interpretation of 'if not' exists, but not in this case.


I have another couple of interpretations of the "if not sincere" in this case.

1. The speaker is uncertain of the sincerity of his respect for the police.
2. related to 1, the speaker's respect for the police is not completely sincere, but neither is it completely insincere.

Dominions Son

@awnlee jawking

Cautious -> Sincere -> Unquestioning

(Degrees of confidence in the respect)


Could be the nature of the respect as well.

Cautious respect: The police don't really deserve respect, but being openly disrespectful of men with guns and the authority to use them is a bad idea.

Sincere Respect: Hey, cops are mostly good men trying to do an ugly job.

Unquestioning respect: Bad case of hero worship.

Replies:   sejintenej
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Cautious -> Sincere -> Unquestioning

Cautious does not quite fit for me, but I see your point.
If 'cautious' was replaced with some not far removed word (perhaps, 'dutiful'), the meaning of the sentence definitely becomes ambiguous.

Replies:   Capt. Zapp
Capt. Zapp

@Ross at Play

When I first read the sentence in question, I was curious as to what other interpretations there could be. Never would I have considered 'cautious if not sincere' to mean the law enforcement was not respected .

I equate it to the 'Good if not Great' example. A 'near miss'.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Capt. Zapp

I been pondering that.
I think it depends on the society you are accustomed to.
DS came up with a definition for 'cautious respect': The police don't really deserve respect, but being openly disrespectful of men with guns and the authority to use them is a bad idea.
It would never occur to me to fear the police where I come from for any reason other than when considering breaking laws.
For me, that puts caution of police many steps away from sincere respect, but I can see how people living in barbaric societies could be somewhere in between those two.

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

people living in barbaric societies


That's me. Gung ho police with an incompetent leader murdered an innocent Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes. Plus there are plenty of examples of 'suicide by cop' by people eg waving table legs at them. And now they've got tasers too :(

AJ

REP

@Switch Blayde

But if the sentence makes sense without it, then you put the commas around it.


Not exactly accurate. If the writer sees the phrase as modifying the sentence, then no commas. The writer should only add the commas if deleting it will not change the meaning of the sentence.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I am curious how others would punctuate 'cautious if insincere respect'.
My view would be that 'cautious and insincere respect' is obviously correct, and there's no reason to change punctuation simple because the conjunction joining the two adjectives is changed from 'and' to 'if'.

I'd offset it in commas whether you use and or if. Either way, the sentence stands alone without it, making it an independent clause.

Also, I agree with Awnlee, "cautious but insincere respect" could mean he was cautious about insulting the men, or he WAS respectful, but was delivering it in an awkward manner. The meaning IS NOT clear from the delivery.

Switch Blayde

@REP

The writer should only add the commas if deleting it will not change the meaning of the sentence.


That's what I meant

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

That's what I meant too ... if only we had some better term than 'nonrestrictive appositive' to say that!

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

That's what I meant too ... if only we had some better term than 'nonrestrictive appositive' to say that!

I kind of like "indirect thought", short for 'an idea indirectly related to the sentence as a whole'. Frankly, I'll never remember nonrestrictive appo... who?

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

I'll never remember nonrestrictive appo... who?

'Appositive' is quite simple really. It simple means posit-ioned next to.
'Nonrestrictive' is the downright misleading term, meaning "indirect" enough that it has to be separated out from the main sentence with two commas.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
sejintenej

@Dominions Son

Could be the nature of the respect as well.

Cautious respect: The police don't really deserve respect, but being openly disrespectful of men with guns and the authority to use them is a bad idea.

That is how I read it though I accept that it was open to other interpretations. Hence an unasked for attempt to clarify. I would not have added punctuation - I can't see how a comma etc. would have improved the sentence

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

It would never occur to me to fear the police where I come from for any reason other than when considering breaking laws.


https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2017/01/06/this-week-in-drug-raids-2/?utm_term=.c9473c87b1ae

Capt. Zapp

@Ross at Play

That's what I meant too ... if only we had some better term than 'nonrestrictive appositive' to say that!


Why use the term 'nonrestrictive appositive' at all?

Why not just ask the author what he meant instead of trying to figure it out on your own? A simple "What did you mean by this?" would not only get you an answer, but would probably get the author to rewrite the sentence to clarify its meaning.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

'Appositive' is quite simple really. It simple means posit-ioned next to.

"Positioned next to" isn't any more informative of a term. Few understand precisely what's supposed to be positioned next to what, or why. The term itself is meaningless, which is why it's so hard to recall (the name doesn't remind you of what the problem is).

Ross at Play

@Capt. Zapp

Why use the term 'nonrestrictive appositive' at all?

I was not discussing the meaning of the sentence. I was describing the grammatical function of one phrase within the sentence - cautious is an 'adjective', respect is a 'noun', if not sincere is a 'nonrestrictive appositive'.
I was bemoaning the fact it is difficult for us here the discuss sentences like my example because the term that describes what they are is not understood by many.
This Wiki article may help you understand my meaning.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apposition#Restrictive_versus_non-restrictive

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