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Parentheses Problems

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Parentheses Problems:

From Parenthetically Challenged to a Parenthetical Pro

In One Easy Article


Parentheses can be a difficult proposition for many writers. Sure, they can add a bit of sophistication to writing, but if used incorrectly, the attempt at sophistication quickly turns sophomoric. They are, however, a handy tool to have available in your writer’s toolbox.

Parentheses Use:  Parentheses are primarily used to indicate nonessential information, digressions, or explanations in a sentence that might be helpful to your reader, but wouldn’t be missed if it was omitted. As simple as this may sound, it can be confusing when you consider that parentheses basically serve the same function as dashes or commas. One way to keep the three separate is to judge the level of importance of the information indicated.

Dashes tend to have the greatest emphasis (almost a sense of urgency) on the extra information in a sentence.

            Example: Many people –particularly children—could become infected with the virus.

            Commas also convey extra information, but with less emphasis than dashes.

            Example: Many people, including children, received free ice cream cones.

Parentheses still provide extra information, but with even less emphasis than dashes or commas. Think of the information in parentheses as being helpful, but if it wasn’t there, there wouldn’t be much lost from the sentence.

            Example: Many people (some of whom didn’t buy raffle tickets) received prizes.

As you can see, if the information in the parentheses was removed from the sentence, it wouldn’t affect the sentence very much.

Parentheses can also be used to enclose labels for lists within sentences.

            Example: After the hotdog eating contest, the winners are (1) Bobby (67 hotdogs in one hour), (2) Sally (59 hotdogs in one hour), and (3) Brian (37 hot dogs in one hour).

Punctuating Parentheses Rule: A comma, period, or semicolon should be placed after the closing parenthesis.

            Example: He took his dog (a German Shepherd), while his friend brought his dog as well (a Border Collie/Poodle mix).

Exception to the rule: If an entire sentence is set off with parentheses, then the ending punctuation would fall inside the ending parenthesis.

            Example: Many times, my mother complained about my messy bedroom. (But then, she tended to complain about all the kids' bedrooms.)

One Final Thought: When writing about parentheses, remember that the term “parentheses” is plural and the term “parenthesis” is singular.

Parentheses  =  ( )                                    Parenthesis  =  (    or    )

            Of course, I haven’t touched on the wide and varied uses of parentheses or parenthesis as cute emoticons when texting, social networking or emailing, but I’m here strictly to inform on writing. Besides, that could provide information for a whole new article.  :  )

            There you have it: the basic rules to becoming a parenthetical professional. Like many aspects of writing, it takes practice and the occasional revue for the information to stay with you, but beware: practice can sometimes lead to overuse and/or repetitive writing (both of which are literary no-no’s).

            Keep your keyboards clacking.


William suggests The Little Brown Handbook as a great writing reference tool for all writers.  You can purchase this important writer's tool by clicking on the Amazon link below!

I just ordered my own Little Brown Handbook! Sometimes you just need a quick reference for punctuation assistance! Your articles on punctuation should be read by all writers as a refresher for an important part of our writing day!
Jul 31, 2013