In the following sentence where should the contrasting component be placed?

It's an acquired habit, not intrinsic


It's an acquired, not intrinsic, habit.

To me both seem fine but I'd like to which one of these grammatically correct.


  • 1
    I think both are grammatically correct, but the second one also seems to stress habit while the first one does not.
    – Vlammuh
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 15:48
  • 1
    @Sander I feel the opposite... I feel that the second sentence emphasizes the acquired nature of the habit...
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 19:09

2 Answers 2


The first example is OK but it seems to leave intrinsic hanging (by itself intrinsic what?).

Without getting into comma usage rules, I would say the second example is OK, but it seems like too many commas for such a short statement.

Rather than debate whether two commas are OK or not, you should write it to use only one:

It's an acquired habit, not an intrinsic one.

The benefits here are mentioning habit (the subject) earlier in the sentence, which can be easier to follow. And there is only one comma that really can't be disputed.

one can be used because you already know what it refers to. You could write habit if you want to for emphasis.

  • 1
    This answer is correct, but I think this comma usage rule is worth getting into because it's pretty straight forward: The clause "not intrinsic" in the second sentence is an interjection. It can be removed entirely from the sentence and the sentence would still be valid. Therefore, it should be demarcated by commas.
    – TBridges42
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 20:38
  • 1
    @TBridges42 - In the case of an interjection, dashes might work, too: It's an acquired – not intrinsic – habit.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 21:53

Both of your examples are uses of parenthetical phrases and they're both technically fine. There are some slight problems with the usage but I'll address that below.

A parenthetical phrase, sometimes called simply a parenthetical, is one that is not essential to the framing sentence. In the preceding sentence, the phrase “sometimes called simply a parenthetical” is itself a parenthetical because the segments of the sentence that precede and follow it can be attached to form a complete sentence without it: “A parenthetical phrase is one that is not essential to the framing sentence.”

What this doesn't say is that, often, these unnecessary phrases are set apart with commas.

So, while you lose some information by excluding "not intrinsic", the sentence is complete without it.

As the other answer indicates, the first sentence feels a bit incomplete.

You actually have at least two options to remove this lack of specificity.

First, you can do what user3169 recommended and add some framing to "intrinsic":

It's an acquired habit, not an intrinsic one.

The other option is to keep the sentence ending the same but make "habit" the subject:

The habit is acquired, not intrinsic.

Because habit is the subject, rather than "it", there's no need to explain what "intrinsic" relates to.

The second sentence is perfectly fine as it is. Because you've placed "not intrinsic" between "acquired" and "habit", it's not necessary to include "habit" with "intrinsic" in this version.

It's an acquired, not intrinsic, habit. (good)
*It's an acquired, not an intrinsic habit, habit. (weird)

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