“The reality is that there are many good uses for parentheses. . . . [Sometimes] wouldn’t you agree that it adds a bit of texture?”

~Edgar Schuster

Parentheses are like whispers (and the opposite of em dashes). Instead of emphasizing what they enclose, they make it less important. But at the same time, sometimes they give you a sense of tone, like sarcasm, that colors the whole sentence differently.

Professional Examples

  • I went through a very bad bout of jealousy last year, when someone with whom I am (or rather was) friendly did extremely well.

~from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

  • Any number of things may work for you—an altar, for instance, or votive candles, sage smudges, small-animal sacrifices, especially now that the Supreme Court has legalized them. (I cut out the headline the day this news came out and taped it above the kitty’s water dish.)

~from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

  • The first of these hopeful notes was from Algis Budrys, then the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction, who read a story of mine called “The Night of the Tiger” (the inspiration was, I think, an episode of The Fugitive in which Dr. Richard Kimble worked as an attendant cleaning out cages in a zoo or a circus) and wrote: “This is good. Not for us, but good. You have talent. Submit again.”

~from Stephen King’s On Writing

  • In part the answer is a matter of demographics and (surprise) of money.

~from Mark Edmundson’s “On the Uses of a Liberal Education”

  • It’s likely that I’ll be commended for being “interesting” (and I am commended, many times over), that I’ll be cited for my relaxed and tolerant ways (that happens, too), that my sense of humor and capacity to connect the arcana of the subject matter with current culture will come in for some praise (yup).

~from Mark Edmundson’s “On the Uses of a Liberal Education”

  • The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.

~from Stephen King’s On Writing

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a quarter of the American population suffers a bout of food poisoning each year.

~from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation

  • My suffering did not fit anywhere, I realized. And, I could accept this. It was all right. (It was daylight that brough my protest: “No! No! No! My suffering does matter. I want to live! I can’t help but mix my life with that of the universe. Life is a peephole, a single tiny entry onto a vastness—how can I not dwell on this brief, cramped view I have of things? This peephole is all I’ve got!”) I mumbled words of Muslim prayer and went back to sleep.

~from Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

  • As a component of written literacy, grammar knowledge often functions to “draw lines of social distinction, mark status, and rank students in meritocratic order” (Trimbur 279).

~from Laura R. Micciche’s “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar”

Past Student Examples

  • Former U.S. Surgeon General, David Satcher has called teen suicide, “America’s hidden epidemic.” (When taken into account that the suicide rate for teens has tripled since the 1960s, the word epidemic seems to fit properly.) ~Mitch
  • Well, they definitely ate a better diet, lost weight and were in better health (medical tests prior to and after confirmed this). ~Mindy

How Parentheses Work

Independent clause (extra information).

Independent (interruption) clause.

(Independent clause.)

The trickiest part about parentheses is knowing where to put the punctuation that goes next to them. Notice the three templates above. When your parentheses are inside a larger sentence, the punctuation goes outside. When the parentheses capture an entire sentence, the period comes inside.

Other variations follow the same basic formats:

“Quotation” (citation).

Dependent clause (interruption), indendent clause.

Sentence introducing a list of (1) item, (2) item, and (3) item.

With a quotation, the quotation marks need to be closed before the parentheses but the period still comes after. Also, if the parentheses come next to a comma in a sentence (such as here), put the comma after the parentheses. With a list of items, the parentheses are used as miniature interruptions to show the number or letter of each item and should be placed as shown.

Self Check

When you use parentheses, they should be 100% removable. Cover up the parentheses and everything inside them to see what’s left. All sentences and punctuation should still make sense.

For example, if you’ve got an entire sentence inside parentheses, the period should be inside, too; otherwise, when you remove the parentheses you’ll have a stray period left behind!


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