Module 14, Additional Punctuation, Lesson 7:

Parentheses and Brackets


Definition: Parentheses ( ) enclose information and separate it from the main idea of the sentence or paragraph. They should be used only when necessary. It's better in formal writing to rewrite sentences to avoid using parentheses and brackets.

Parenthesis is the singular form of parentheses, but these marks are always used in pairs.

Parenthetical Elements

Use parentheses to set off ideas that function as asides in a sentence or paragraph. Parenthetical information can be removed without altering the meaning of a sentence or paragraph. Parentheses are used in many situations:

  • Explanations
    Boudicca led the Iceni (an independent British people) against the Romans.
  • Translations
    We had erdbeerkuchen (strawberry cake) for dessert.
  • Clarifications
    My dog (an Akita) is the smallest of the giant breeds.
  • Joking around
    We set up our tent (we pretended we were in the wilderness) in the backyard.
  • Talking to the reader
    Joshua served a souffle that he had made himself. It was awful (but don't tell him I said that).

Punctuation with Parentheses

Punctuation with parentheses is very similar to punctuation with quotation marks.

  • Periods
    • Parenthetical sentence at the end of a sentence

      If the information in the parentheses is a separate, complete sentence, the period at the end of the sentence goes inside the parentheses.

      We spent two hours at the zoo. (Most of us could have spent two hours watching the otters.)

      Notice how the first sentence ended before the parenthetical expression started. This means that the sentence inside the parentheses must start with a capital letter.

    • Parenthetical phrase at the end of a sentence

      If you use a phrase (in other words, an incomplete sentence) in parentheses at the end of a sentence, the period goes outside the parentheses.

      We ordered three pepperoni pizzas (my favorite).
    • Parenthetical sentence in the middle of a sentence

      A complete parenthetical sentence in the middle of a sentence does not require a period. The first letter of the parenthetical sentence is not capitalized because it is in the middle of the main sentence, not after it.

      Our two hour final (it was our longest exam) included a three page essay.
  • Commas

    Commas generally go outside the parentheses.

    The drought continued (64 days and counting), and many farmers' crops were destroyed.
  • Question marks and exclamation marks

    If the parenthetical comment itself is an exclamation or question, the exclamation or question mark goes inside the parentheses.

    Ana got a 100 (the only one in the class!) on her test. It was her 12th perfect score in a row. (Can you imagine?)

Conventions with Parentheses

  • Numbers or letters in a list
    Make sure you include (1) your cover sheet, (2) your essay, and (3) your bibliography.
  • Time zones
    Their hours are from 8 AM (EST) to 5 PM (EST).
  • Area codes
    His phone number is (321) 555-5555.
  • Beginning and end dates
    William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote 38 plays.
    The Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) actually lasted longer than one hundred years.

Definition: Brackets [ ] separate and enclose information. They are used less frequently than parentheses and are most often used in relation to quotations.

Brackets with Quotations

Use brackets to enclose words that you have added or changed in a quotation. Also use brackets for explanations within a quotation.

Danny's note read, "Thomas and Lucas left their homework at my house [italics added]."
The newspaper reported, "The enemies were captured, and [they] were imprisoned."
The teacher explained, "This test [the one they had taken the day before] showed that you really understood the material."

In the third example, the author—not the teacher—is explaining that the test was the day before.

Using [sic] in a Quotation

Use [sic] to show that an error in a quotation is from the original source.

Jennifer wrote, "My pupy [sic] is named Joe."

Practice What You've Learned

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Each of the following sentences contains one or more parenthetical expressions or conventions. Insert a parenthesis or bracket by clicking the spaces before and after the appropriate words in each sentence.