How to Use Parentheses

You may be familiar with the basics of how to use parentheses. But this form of punctuation can get a little tricky, and sometimes we forget that there actually are rules regarding the use of these literary tools. So in this article, we are going to refresh our memories on both the use and punctuation of parentheses.

Parentheses () generally surround information that either clarifies the sentence around it, or is an aside. Parentheses are never used in singles, but always used as a pair. They gives the reader the sense that:

  • the author wanted to make something more clear,
  • or had an afterthought once the sentence was finished.

The #1 Rule About How to Use Parentheses

When you use parentheses, you want to be sure that you are using them appropriately within a sentence. So it is important to note that the parenthetical phrase must not be integral to the sentence.

In other words, you should be able to “lift it right out” of your sentence – and the sentence should still make perfect sense.

    We all went to the gym (except couch potato Joe) and took the awesome Zumba class!

If we lift the parenthetical phrase out, this still makes sense as:

    We all went to the gym and took the awesome Zumba class!

This is a nifty way to double check that your parenthetical phrase is actually parenthetical! If it doesn’t lift right out, then it shouldn’t be in parentheses – and chances are you’ll need to reword your sentence.

Punctuation When Using Parentheses

These rules are pretty straightforward, but very important to remember – so you don’t end up looking the fool in your academic or other writing. So let’s take a look at how to use parentheses with other punctuation.

  • If parentheses occur at the end of a sentence, put the period after the closing parenthesis.
    Our heart was set on visiting a South American country (Brazil).
  • If you have an entire sentence that is parenthetical, then you put the period or other punctuation inside the parentheses.
    Don’t read this story if you’re in a fragile mood. (It will leave you devastated.)
  • If the parenthetical phrase is part of the sentence, put the punctuation outside the parentheses.
    Don’t read this story if you’re in a fragile mood (it will leave you devastated).
  • Keep in mind that parentheses are not part of the subject of a sentence.
    Sherlock (despite having a limp) was always the first to arrive at a crime scene.
  • When parentheses are used in the middle of a sentence, you place the punctuation – usually a comma – after the parenthetical phrase or word.
    When he took the money bag to the bank ($7,000 cash), the teller counted it wrong and gave him an erroneous receipt.

Specialized Uses of Parentheses

Like I said – the rules above really are pretty straightforward. No big mysteries here! So we’re almost done. Now let’s briefly address some special uses of parentheses.

Area Codes in Phone Numbers

You can reach our offices at (407) 682-4488.

Numbers in a List

When you make a list by using letters or numbers, often the letters or numbers are enclosed by parentheses.

When swimming in the public pool, the rules are (1) no diving, (2) no pushing, and (3) no running on the deck.

Abbreviations or Acronyms

When using an abbreviation or acronym, parentheses can be used to either explain the abbreviation, or give the reader the abbreviation or acronym that they may not be aware exists.

He had to get a CAT scan (computerized axial tomography) to see if there was an further disease.

She had a meeting at the “Daughters of the American Revolution” (DAR) offices.

Short Translations

I couldn’t speak to him because the only German I know is “hallo” (hello) and “auf wiedersehen” (goodbye).

Year of Birth

An obscure poet named Camille LaDeux (1774 – 1830) made some fascinating observations about human life.

That about sums up our look at how to use parentheses. You can learn even more about this and other forms of punctuation with our Professional Writing lessons. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.

P.S. Become a better writer. Find out more here.

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