How to use parentheses

by admin on May 5, 2011

Parentheses, they sit there, on your keyboard the simple set of symbols that always come in pairs. For British readers, you’ll probably know them as brackets and they are wonderful little marks of punctuation. They can be used in a variety of ways, you probably see them a lot, but do you know how to use them?

Parentheses have a plethora of uses, from citations to explanations, you could use them in nearly every sentence you write (but it does get very annoying). One of the most common ways to use parentheses is to add more information to a sentence, without making a sentence overly long, grammar wise.

Ever written a sentence, or a paragraph, and have a little side story that you really want to add? If you did, the sentence would run on and on and that many commas is just hard on the eyes. Not to mention annoying. Also, your little extras aren’t that necessary for your argument or point, your audience could skip over it but you’d like them to have the option to read it at least. Put that little tale in parentheses. These little curved brackets serve to remove something from the sentence, or even paragraph, in a grammatical sense. Your words are still there but you don’t have to read what’s in the parentheses for the sentence to make sense. Here’s an example:

Insomnia can be triggered in a variety of ways, stress is the largest contributor to losing sleep but its also one of the most difficult to ease (I know, for me, just trying to reduce my workload simply creates more stress), thankfully, there several strategies to help reduce stress.

The brackets contain a little aside, it connects to the reader on a more personal level but its not necessary to convey the point of the sentence. The sentence will still make sense without the parentheses, see:

Insomnia can be triggered in a variety of ways, stress is the largest contributor to losing sleep but its also one of the most difficult to ease, thankfully, there several strategies to help reduce stress.

Another way to use parentheses is to add examples (e.g like I’m doing right here). In the same way as adding an aside, you can still remove the parentheses from the sentence and it would still make sense. Adding the example, in parentheses, gives your reader more information that might help them understand the point better.

If your a student or an academic, or maybe you’re writing a report/presentation and need to cite something – your going to be using parentheses a lot. If you choose, or are required, to use in text citations your going to become very familiar with parentheses. In text citations are always rendered into parentheses, like this (Kelly, 2011). When it comes to grammar and citations, your punctuation marks always go after the parentheses, never before.

When using parentheses in sentences, punctuation always goes after the brackets. If you’re writing a little side story in your parentheses, don’t forget to use punctuation marks within them. If its just adding to the sentence, you not need a period (full stop, for our British readers). However, if your putting an entire sentence in parentheses, say to add a side story to a paragraph rather than a sentence, you need to treat it like a proper sentence, period and all.

Parentheses are wonderful little things, they shorten sentences without comprising on information, they allow to you give examples to your readers and they are one of the most common ways to cite your source. Use them, those innocuous little things on your keyboard, you might just find there the best tool in your writing tool box.

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