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Use of Parentheses: General Rules

Parentheses are punctuation marks that are used to provide additional information within a text, paragraph, or sentence. Unlike other punctuation marks in academic writing, parentheses are always come in pairs.

The parenthetical material can be a single word, a phrase, a sentence, or a paragraph.

The parenthetical material Example
Phrase We truly enjoy the funny stories Mrs. Johns shares with us (during her History of Human Behavior course).
Sentence We truly enjoy the funny stories Mrs. Johns shares while teaching her History of Human Behavior course. (She received the Award for Teaching Excellence.)
Paragraph We truly enjoy the funny stories Mrs. Johns shares while teaching her History of Human Behavior course. (Our school suggested nominating her for Teaching Excellence Award. Eventually, she became the winner.)

The parenthetical material usually represents the writer’s remark, side-note, abbreviation, definition, example, cross-reference, or citation. Whatever the material is, it must not be grammatically integral to the surrounding sentence. If it is, the sentence should be reviewed.

  • Mr. Clark (and his assistant) were expected to arrive by 12 o’clock.
  • ✔️ Mr. Clark (and his assistant) was expected to arrive by 12 o’clock.

As you can see, this is an easy mistake to avoid. You just need to read your sentence without the parenthetical content. If it remains grammatically accurate, the parentheses are acceptable. If it doesn’t, the grammatical structure should be changed.

Use of Other Punctuation

When a parenthetical sentence stands on its own, the closing punctuation mark for the sentence should stand inside the closing parenthesis.

✔️ Last week, Manchester United won the Premier League. (It was really exciting!)

When the parenthetical material stands at the end of a larger sentence, the closing punctuation mark for the sentence should stand outside the closing parenthesis.

✔️ Last week, Manchester United won the Premier League (that was really exciting).

When the parenthetical material stands in the middle of a larger sentence, the surrounding punctuation should stand outside the parentheses. It should look like the parenthetical element is not there.

✔️ Last week, Manchester United won the Premier League (at the Wembley Stadium), so we were very excited.

When the whole sentence stands in parentheses in the middle of a larger sentence, it shouldn’t be capitalized and it shouldn’t end with a period. The only exception is made for a question mark and an exclamation point which are acceptable in this case.

✔️ We checked the most recent performance of Manchester United (none of us thought the team was so successful), but we forgot about the opposite team (what kind of consequences will it have for us?).

Special Cases of Use

Numbered or lettered lists can use parentheses to put the numbers or letters in the right order.

✔️ Please submit the following three documents with your application: (1) a resume, (2) a cover letter, and (3) a professional recommendation.

If the expression in parentheses interrupts a complete sentence, you should add special marks for emphasis.

✔️ Cameron Diaz (an extremely talented actress!) has not appeared on screen since 2012.

Time zones are usually placed into parentheses after the indication of time.

✔️ The meeting will be started at 10:00 a.m. (EST).

Area codes are often placed into parentheses.

✔️ If you need some assistance, feel free to call me at (212) 333-8549.

Brief translations used in the unquoted text can put into parentheses. (In a quoted text, put brief translations into brackets.)

✔️ His knowledge of Turkish is limited to merhaba (hi) and ok (tabi).

In some texts, a person’s date of birth is placed into parentheses when the person is first mentioned. If the date is quite uncertain, it needs to be followed with a question mark.

  • ✔️ William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) has an immense impact on the writings of contemporary poets.
  • ✔️ William Shakespeare (1564? – 23 April 1616) has an immense impact on the writings of contemporary poets.

Parenthetical information is useful to the reader but is not significant to the meaning of a sentence. If you remove it, the sentence will still make sense.

With parenthetical information Without parenthetical information
✔️ Sam (the boy who lives in the next house) invited you to her birthday party next month. ✔️ Sam invited you to her birthday party next month.

NOTE: Overuse of parentheses will be distracting to readers.

Michael Crawl (a poorly drawn character in the book) shows his real face in the last chapter.

It’s not totally wrong, but the use of parentheses can be replaced with commas. It will make the sentence look less overwhelmed.

✔️ Michael Crawl, a poorly drawn character in the book, shows his real face in the last chapter.

Parentheses vs Brackets

Parentheses and brackets should not be treated interchangeably. Brackets are less common than parentheses being used in special cases. Similar to single quotation marks, brackets are used within quoted material only.

Infographic on where to use brackets and where to use parentheses

Although parentheses are not often used in the text, they happen to be irreplaceable in some cases. To become a good writer, make sure to keep the above information in your mind!

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