Punctuation Tips: Fun with Parentheses
Punctuation Tips - Fun with Parentheses

Are parentheses fun? Of course! How else would you type a smiley face? : – )

(Image: emojione/wikimedia)

What? You have emoji for that now? Oh. Well, scratch the ‘fun’ bit then.

But parentheses are an important part of punctuation. Here are some (fun?) rules about how to use them.

Parentheses or Brackets?

Parentheses are a type of bracket, also called ‘round brackets’. But there are other types of bracket, such as square brackets [which look like this] and curly brackets {which look like this}.

Other brackets are available.

Each type has various uses in different situations (e.g. square brackets are used when editing or clarifying quotations). But parentheses are the most common in most types of writing, so these are the main ones you will need.

How to Use Parentheses

Parentheses have several common uses, including to:

  • Set apart non-essential information: The man (who was walking a dog) shouted at me.
  • Add commentary: The man shouted at me (which I thought was very rude).
  • Clarify something: The man shouted (i.e. raised his voice) at me.
  • Number/letter points in a list: The man (a) shouted at me and (b) waved his fist.
  • Introduce an abbreviation: He belonged to the World Shouting Federation (WSF).

They also have several uses specific to certain types of writing. One of these is citing sources in author-date referencing systems, such as APA:

One study found that random shouting has increased in recent years (McShouty, 2015).

In all of the cases above, the sentence should still work if the parenthetical information were removed. This is slightly different when parentheses are used in an equation:

-11f = 7 (1 – 2f) + 5

Here, the brackets show the order in which different parts of the equation should be resolved. As such, they are essential to understanding the equation.

Parenthetical Punctuation

How to punctuate sentences with parentheses depends on the situation. When parentheses are used within a sentence, punctuation usually goes outside:

I waved at the shouter (who I didn’t know), but he got angrier (I don’t know why).

But sometimes a complete sentence appears in parentheses by itself, in which case you should put the full stop inside the closing bracket:

I waved at the shouter, but he got angrier. (I have no idea why.)

The rules here change for question marks and exclamation marks. These can be used inside brackets when appropriate, but they do not replace the normal end punctuation in a sentence:

He shouted (such anger!) more when I waved back (who knows why?).

It’s important to check this, as it’s easy to leave out the final full stop if you’ve used an exclamation mark or question mark within brackets.

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