Punctuation Quiz #14: Parenthetical Interjections

By Mark Nichol

Each of the following sentences includes an emphatic word that must be set off from the rest of the statement. Insert punctuation as necessary.

1. An heirloom plant may have been grown in the same location for say a hundred years.

2. It’s within this context then that we must consider the arrival of the military advisers.

3. Seemingly minor points could hamper the platform’s popularity, and, hence game sales.

4. Keep solving for “x” and “y” with different numbers, until finally, you try 70.

5. That process might even involve such old-fashioned ideas as, gasp!, putting search results in alphabetical or chronological order when requested.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: An heirloom plant may have been grown in the same location for say a hundred years.
Correct : An heirloom plant may have been grown in the same location for, say, a hundred years.

Say, interjected into this sentence, must be bracketed by commas.

2.
Original: It’s within this context then that we must consider the arrival of the military advisers.
Correct : It’s within this context, then, that we must consider the arrival of the military advisers.

The transitional word then should be framed by commas.

3.
Original: Seemingly minor points could hamper the platform’s popularity, and, hence game sales.
Correct : Seemingly minor points could hamper the platform’s popularity and, hence, game sales.

Hence is the interjected word in this example; the only punctuation required is that which sets it off.

4.
Original: Keep solving for “x” and “y” with different numbers, until finally, you try 70.
Correct : Keep solving for “x” and “y” with different numbers until, finally, you try 70.

There’s no need for a comma preceding until, but one should follow it to match the comma following the interjection finally.

5.
Original: That process might even involve such old-fashioned ideas as, gasp!, putting search results in alphabetical or chronological order when requested.
Correct : That process might even involve such old-fashioned ideas as — gasp! — putting search results in alphabetical or chronological order when requested.

A dramatic interjection such as gasp! merits stronger signals of interruption.

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5 Responses to “Punctuation Quiz #14: Parenthetical Interjections”

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Parenthetical Interjections”
    You people in linguistics call them “parenthetical”, but I think that it would be far clearer and less confusing if you would insist that “parenthetical” requires parentheses, just like (this). Just short-circuit all possible confusing by defining things precisely, rather then beating around the bush.
    In addition, there is a way of nesting parentheses like this: {No ifs [ands (or buts)]}. The universal rule is that these things are read from the innermost parentheses outwards.
    Why not use “parentheses” and “parenthetical” with the same meanings that they have in all other fields?
    Mathematics, logic, physics, chemistry, astronomy the social sciences…

  • venqax

    Well, there are a couple of things wrong with the comment above. First, it’s inaccurate regarding what parenthesis means. While the typographical marks () happen to be called parentheses, the word parenthesis also and originally refers not to the marks but to the phrase itself enclosed by them. In “John was there (as usual)” the “as usual” is a parenthesis. It is also denoted by a pair of parentheses. Actually, to refer to a “parenthetical phrase” is pretty much redundant.

    Also, it is inaccurate, at least for English, regarding the order of precedence for parentheses () and brackets[]. It would be, “No ifs (ands [or buts] for that matter) will be allowed.” Parentheses from the outside in. If braces {} are used they go another order inside the braces, ([{o}]). But I’m not sure they are even technically punctuation marks. Also note the terms parentheses, brackets, and braces are used differently in different places. Some consider all 3 to be types of parentheses. Others call brackets square brackets and braces curly brackets. The British, apparently, call parentheses brackets. It is really a mess.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Venqax, you have already admitted that you do not know much about mathematics, logic, chemistry,…
    My statement is that “language” should change to conform with all of the other fields of human endeavor. In a specific example, the format is decidedly {[(o)]} and not what you wrote.
    Mr. Nichol and others also want to use “parenthetical” to refer to things that contain no parentheses at all. I am advocating that writers should be more precise, yeah, completely precise, about this.
    A genuine parenthetical expression would be “more precise (yeah, completely precise) about this.”
    Mathematical and logical expressions go like this z = { x[(y + 3) + 1]} + 4.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Expressions like z = { x[(y + 3) + 1] } + 4 are done internationally, and so it matters not about different versions for American, British, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, or Turkish.
    Why can’t we make the same agreement work for all varieties of the English language?
    Also, everyone uses hours, minutes, and seconds in the same way, and there are 24 hours in a day, and seven days in a week, everywhere. However, there are not the same numbers of days in a month by the solar and lunar calendars (notably the Arabian one).

  • Dale A. Wood

    This one is also correct: Keep solving for “x” and “y” with different numbers until finally you try 70 – but perhaps with a slight change in emphasis in the meaning.
    Also: Keep solving for “x” and “y” with different numbers until you try 70 finally. “finally” is not necessarily an interjection, but rather it could be a mere adverb.

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