3 Ways To Use Parentheses

When you’ve mastered the basics of punctuation, such as how to use the punctuation marks that appear at the end of a sentence, you’ll want to spend some time considering the types of marks you use within your sentences. These include parentheses—and other similar symbols, like brackets, which offset text that isn’t important to the meaning of a sentence. Though there are a variety of these types of marks (and they are the subject of another article), here we focus on the parentheses and how to use them in your writing.

Parentheses offset extra information, clarifications, asides, or citations. The information inside the parentheses, for example, can be as short as a number or a word, or it can be as long as a few sentences.

There are some basics about parentheses to note before discussing their uses: parentheses always appear in pairs, and they’re often used where commas would also be appropriate. (And, in case you’re wondering, the parenthesis is singular; parentheses is plural.)

That said, let’s talk a little more in-depth about how to use parentheses.

Parentheses clarify and add information

A sentence should be able to stand on its own without the parenthetical information. For example: The little girl (and her baby doll) skipped across the park to her mother. Here, the primary subject is the little girl. The extra information in the parentheses isn’t necessary. You could delete it without changing the sentence’s meaning.

The information inside the parentheses can also work as an aside or a separate piece of the full story. Here’s an example: Marshall needed to leave (his bus was departing soon) so he waved goodbye. Here, the parenthetical text works clarifies the first part of the sentence. It adds extra information without cluttering the sentence.

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How to punctuate parentheses

If the information inside the parentheses is a complete sentence, you’d usually put the period inside the closing parenthesis. This is a point up for debate (it’s not unusual to see punctuation outside the parentheses, as in this sentence). However, if the information is a fragment and the parenthetical comes at the end of the larger sentence, the closing punctuation mark should be outside the closing parenthesis.

When the parentheses appear in the middle of a sentence that needs a comma or other punctuation, the punctuation should appear after the closing parenthesis. Commas rarely come before the first parenthesis. For example: We brought the winning lottery ticket with us ($200), but to our dismay, the shop had closed early.

Parentheses are used in citations

MLA format uses parentheses for in-text citations. Parenthetical citations come after a direct quote or paraphrase, and typically include the author’s last name and the page number of the quote, depending on the information. The text inside the parentheses should give enough information for a reader to consult the paper’s Works Cited page and track down the source. For example: Fire imagery permeates Fahrenheit 451 from the first sentence: ‘It was a pleasure to burn’ (Bradbury 1).

In general, the role of parentheses is to provide extra information without overwhelming the main sentence. Although there may be other ways to insert the information, the parentheses also allow for a visual break in the text.

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