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Hi All,

I've been a grammar stickler for years and I'm happy to have found this site. My first question is as follows:

The plaintiff described his lost employment opportunity as an element of damages, not as a cause of action.

Why did I put a comma after damages? Is the "not" a coordinate conjunction? Or, is this a prepositional phrase "as [not] a cause of action"? I can't figure it out.

Thanks !!!!

sm0kybare
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sm0kybareThe plaintiff described his lost employment opportunity as an element of damages, not as a cause of action.
There are two possible reasons:

a) The placement of commas is connected with the cadence of natural speech. When native spearkers say the sentence, there is a pause before "not" to emphasize the contrast between the two phrases.

b) There is a missing (optional) coordinating conjunction - "and." Commas before conjunctions are common.

The plaintiff described his lost employment opportunity as an element of damages, (and) not as a cause of action.

Note that if the phrases are switched, "but" would be added, and it is not optional:

The plaintiff described his lost employment opportunity not as a cause of action, but as an element of damages.
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'And's and 'but's and 'yet's, etc., as coordinating conjunctions require (according to most style manuals) commas when they separate independent clauses (unless these are quite short), but there is no such ruling for lesser phrases. These are also possible, common and accepted:

The plaintiff described his lost employment opportunity as an element of damages not as a cause of action.
The plaintiff described his lost employment opportunity as an element of damages and not as a cause of action.
The plaintiff described his lost employment opportunity not as an element of damages but as a cause of action.
He is stupid not smart.
He is stupid and not aware.
He is stupid but not unaware.
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Comments  
I've wondered about this for years. By itself, conveying the sense by matching the cadence of conversation would be sufficient argument for including the comma, but I seldom see it, even in the best periodicals.
 Mister Micawber's reply was promoted to an answer.
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