Most Experts Agree: Use Parentheses with Caution
Great for stream-of-conscious writing, parentheses are adaptable to most informal situations and can even on occasion make the reader feel like they’re part of your club. It conveys natural interjections that may occur in day-to-day conversations with those you trust, but there is also a dark side to parentheses …
Parentheses can often be jarring, lead to confusion or misinterpretation, contort the meaning of a sentence, and dangerously approach run-on sentence status.
In Brief: Use Parentheses Sparingly!
Many English language experts will warn writers that parentheses often convey a snarky, sophomoric tone to your writing with its abrupt asides and gossip-like tone. Instead of using parentheses, it’s recommended to try writing a sentence in another way or to use commas for nonrestrictive clauses.
If you won’t let that little warning dissuade you from using parentheses (as so many authors do), bear these guidelines in mind to keep your credibility and intent intact.
Quick Parentheses Punctuation and Capitalization Guide
- The parenthesis should never appear alone – it should always appear with its mate to form parentheses: ( ).*
- Punctuation never precedes an opening parenthesis if the parenthetical statement occurs within a sentence.
- The period occurs outside a closing parenthesis if the parenthetical statement occurs within a sentence.
- The period occurs before a closing parenthesis if the parenthetical statement is a complete sentence and it’s independent from the previous statement.
*Exception: emoticons ;)
Additional Parentheses Rules
Use parentheses for asides or interruptions for statements stronger than a comma, but not as intense as a dash. This can be done in an independent sentence or statement dependent on another sentence.
The dog thinks the cat forgave him. (He is sorely mistaken.)
The dog thinks the cat forgave him (fat chance).
Use parentheses to interject exclamations or questions.
The dog stole the cat’s latest quantum physics theorem. (Believe me, it was a stretch, because that dog doesn’t even own a library card!)
The cat shipped the dog off to Egypt (or was it Antarctica?) while their masters were away.
Use parentheses for comments introduced by namely, e.g., i.e., viz, that is, see, and see also.
While the dog was in Antarctica, he attempted to communicate with the natives and failed (that is, the penguins couldn’t speak “woof”).
Use parentheses around numbers or letters listing items in a series that are part of running text.
The cat began to feel remorseful of the poor dog’s demise and decided to (1) go to Antarctica, (2) find the dog, (3) apologize to the dog, and (4) return home with the dog.
In legalese, numbers are first spelled out and then numerically provided within parentheses.
Meanwhile, the dog decided to settle in Antarctica after meeting a colony of fur seals and decided to purchase a bit of ice to call his own:
“I, Dog, hereby purchase ice for fifty thousand (50,000) krill.”
Great for first-person fiction or autobiographical writing, parentheses can engage readers and provide a little more personal insight into your articles. However, if you’re aiming for a formal tone, it’s best to simplify the sentence and avoid parentheses altogether.
Did you miss our last edition of Top Punctuation Howlers? Find out more about the dash here!