Punctuation Quiz #1: Parentheses

By Mark Nichol

All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect style for parenthesis; revise placement and capitalization as necessary:

1. I had the same experience last year (my story differs only in the details.)

2. Steven Spielberg’s (Schindler’s List, Munich) latest film is a lighthearted one.

3. He pitched for the team for five seasons (1994–1998).

4. After locking the front door (Not that it mattered anymore), she hurried to the car.

5. This manual will show you how to fix 1) widgets, 2) gadgets, and 3) gizmos.

Solutions

Parentheses serve to set aside additional information that is tangential to surrounding text. When enclosing words, phrases, or incomplete sentences in parentheses, lowercase the first word and do not include a period inside the close parenthesis (though a question mark or an exclamation point may be used, as here!). Capitalize the first word of a complete sentence in parentheses, and punctuate it with a period, only when the complete sentence follows the terminal punctuation of the preceding sentence (a complete sentence may also appear within a complete sentence, as here). Avoid enclosing more than one complete sentence in parentheses.

1.
Original: I had the same experience last year (my story differs only in the details.)
Correct : I had the same experience last year (my story differs only in the details).

Alternatively, a complete parenthetical sentence, with the first word capitalized and a period following the last word, can follow the terminal punctuation of the previous sentence: “I had the same experience last year. (My story differs only in the details.)”

2.
Original: Steven Spielberg’s (Schindler’s List, Munich) latest film is a lighthearted one.
Correct : The latest film by Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Munich) is a lighthearted one.

When parenthetically noting a person’s representative accomplishments, recast the sentence if the parenthesis follows the possessive form of the person’s name or a possessive pronoun.

3.
Original: He pitched for the team for five seasons (1994–1998).
Correct : He pitched for the team for five seasons (1994–1998).

This sentence was originally correct.

4.
Original: After locking the front door (Not that it mattered anymore), she hurried to the car.
Correct : After locking the front door (not that it mattered anymore), she hurried to the car.

Do not capitalize an incomplete sentence in parentheses.

5.
Original: This manual will show you how to fix 1) widgets, 2) gadgets, and 3) gizmos.
Correct : This manual will show you how to fix (1) widgets, (2) gadgets, and (3) gizmos.

When enumerating items in a run-in list, frame the numbers in a pair of parentheses rather than placing a closing parenthesis after the numbers.

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9 Responses to “Punctuation Quiz #1: Parentheses”

  • Lynn

    Can you provide any reputable source for #1 where your solution is not an error? The original sentence is correct as is and your instruction is wrong: “If a complete sentence in parenthesis appears within another sentence, it should be capitalized and followed by terminal punctuation.” This should NEVER be done (per CMOS, AP, and other style guides).

    The Chicago Manual of Style provides this instruction and example:

    When matter in parentheses or brackets, even a grammatically complete sentence, is included within another sentence, the period belongs outside. “Farnsworth had left an angry message for Isadora on the mantel (she noticed it while glancing in the mirror).”

  • Roberta B.

    #5 should be……
    “This manual will show you how to fix: 1) widgets, 2) gadgets, and 3) gizmos.”

    It doesn’t matter that the list numbers are shown with open or closed parentheses. The problem with the example is that the colon is missing (like the one dangling on that same line next to “Correct”). BTW I agree with Lynn for #1.

    Did you make those “mistakes” just to see if we still are tuning in? Just wondering after the last 4 posts. Maybe it’s a lot of people still on vacation! I do appreciate your daily contribution, but maybe you need a “breather,” too!

  • venqax

    Were there mistake in the last 4 posts?

  • venqax

    Re the CMS: “When matter in parentheses or brackets, even a grammatically complete sentence, is included within another sentence, the period belongs outside. “Farnsworth had left an angry message for Isadora on the mantel (she noticed it while glancing in the mirror).”

    It has always made sense to me (various instructions to the contrary) that the period should be outside the parenthesis in a case like that– regardless of whether the parenthetical phrase is a complete sentence or no– simply because what is inside the parentheses is part of the sentence, not the other way around.

  • Roberta B.

    @venqax – No mistakes in the last 4 posts……….just goose eggs as to comments zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • Four Subscribe

    @Roberta B.–I believe your correction to example #5 is incorrect . There should be no colon after “fix.”

  • Roberta B.

    However, I’ve just been advised that in the case of #5 above, a colon is NOT required to precede the list because the list is grammatically integrated with the lead in phrase (such that you can splice the phrase and any one list item together for a continuous sentence, for example, “This manual will show you how to fix widgets.”). It would be appropriate to use a colon when the phrase preceding the list could constitute a complete sentence, as in “This manual will show you how to fix the following devices: (1) widgets, (2) gadgets, and (3) gizmos.”

    OK. I stand corrected.

  • venqax

    @Roberta B: That makes sense re the colon. True, the last tips have been good ones, but not much to comment on.

  • Mark Nichol

    Thanks to the people who commented above for pointing out an error that has since been corrected.

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