Parentheses indicate that the writer feels that the material contained within is of less importance or should be deemphasized.

Rule: Use parentheses to enclose words or figures that clarify or are used as an aside.
I expect five hundred dollars ($500).
Note: Another grammar tip entitled “Writing Numbers as Both Numerals and Words,” treats this in more detail.
He finally answered (after taking five minutes to think) that he did not understand the question.

Rule: Use commas, not parentheses, around an interruption to indicate it is of equal importance with the rest of the sentence.
Example: He finally answered, after taking five minutes to think, that he did not understand the question.

Rule: Use long dashes around an interruption that you wish to emphasize.
Example: He finally answered—after taking five minutes to think—that he did not understand the question.

You really can “hear” the differences in tone just by the choice of punctuation, can’t you?

Rule: Periods go inside parentheses if an entire sentence is inside the parentheses.
Please read the analysis. (I enclosed it as Attachment A.)
Please read the analysis (Attachment A).
Please read the analysis (enclosed as Attachment A).


Pop Quiz
Place parentheses where needed.

1. She requested actually she pleaded that her name be withheld.
2. We arrived home the train was three hours late at midnight.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. She requested (actually she pleaded) that her name be withheld.
2. We arrived home (the train was three hours late) at midnight.

Posted on Sunday, October 7, 2007, at 10:59 pm

10 Comments on Parentheses

10 responses to “Parentheses”

  1. Sheldon says:

    Rule: Use parentheses to enclose words or figures that clarify or are used as an aside.

    Example: I expect five hundred dollars ($500).

    How does the example clarify anything? Either expression is quite clear by itself. If I say “Send it to me in ten days” – or “Send it to me in 10 days” is it possible that someone would think I meant eleven (11) days?

    The accepted practice of writing an amount on a check in both words and digits illustrates the fallacy of the argument. The more complex the number, the greater the chance that the person writing it will make a mistake. I suspect that in most cases, the amount written in digits will be correct.

    If the logic is valid, we would write December (twelfth month) 17 (seventeenth), 2009 (two thousand nine).

    • Jane says:

      I can see your point; however, I think that if we type numerals such as $500, we may make an error and not catch it. So writing the number out makes sense. The reason for writing the number out on a check is to ensure that the recipient of the check does not change or add any numerals.

  2. Buddy says:

    If, for some reason, I cannot create an en dash or em dash, what should I use in place of it?

  3. Ravi Bedi says:

    Buddy, press the small dash key twice, write your word and press space bar. You will have the m dash.
    I discovered this quite by chance.
    Jane, I wish to change my e mail id. What do I do?

  4. Ravi Bedi says:

    I’m told not to use brackets in a fictional work. But what do I do if it contains references to local names/subjects and other such things that a western reader would not understand without the help of Google?
    Ex: She wore a lose kurta over a dhoti, and put on a bindi on her forehead, before going to the haveli.
    I can use italics, but that won’t help the reader.
    Have a nice day.

    • Jane says:

      If there are that many words that need further explanation, I would suggest adding either footnotes, which are notes at the foot of the page, or endnotes, which are collected under a separate heading at the end of the book in an appendix.

  5. Emily says:

    When using an em dash at the end of a question in dialogue, should I add a question mark?
    For example, “What did you–(?)”
    “Drop it,” he said.

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