15 Purposes for Parentheses
Parentheses are versatile tools for writers. These examples illustrate their uses; use them to enclose the following:
Examples, directions, explanations, and clarifications:
1. “Retain ampersands when they appear as part of an official name (Barnes & Noble, Ben & Jerry’s).”
2. “At that point, you may want to consult with a professional. (Refer to the Resources chapter for a list of tax advisers.)”
3. “Here is a selective glossary of editing and production terms. (Synonyms are in italics; cross-referenced terms are in bold italics.)”
4. “Precede the dollar amount with the initials US only to avoid confusion (in, say, an article about Australia, where the basic unit of currency is also called the dollar).”
Numerals that confirm a spelled-out number in a contract:
5. “The confirmation letter is due within thirty (30) days.”
Abbreviations (usually) after the first reference to the full version of the term:
6. “The country’s import and export levels are regulated by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).”
Note: If the abbreviation is well known or is used again within the next sentence or two after the full name, omit the parenthesized abbreviation immediately after it.
Numbers or letters that distinguish items in a run-in list:
7. “The constituent parts are (1) the thingamajig, (2) the whatchamacallit, and (3) the whatsit.”
Note: Sometimes, only the close parenthesis is used in this format. However, usually, neither numbers nor parentheses are necessary in such cases.
Modifying words or phrases, or interjections:
8. “The writer will (one hopes) produce well-crafted prose.”
9. “It turns out that he had (gasp!) told the truth.”
Translations, pronunciations, or equivalents:
10. “She ran from the kuma (bear).”
11. “Stay at the warung (wah-ROONG) near the mosque.”
12. “The distance from Marseille to Paris is 771 kilometers (479 miles).”
The area code in a phone number or a unit in a mathematical or logical expression:
13. “(213) 867-5309”
14. “a(b) = c”
15. “However, the literature is ambivalent on this issue (Howard, Fine, and Howard 1925; Marx et al. 1912).”
Punctuation in Parentheses
A full sentence in parentheses is capitalized and is followed by a period preceding the closing parenthesis: “Have these resources on hand before you begin. (Items listed in parentheses are desirable but not essential.)”
A partial sentence in parentheses is not capitalized and is not followed by a period but may precede a question mark or exclamation point: “Use a dark, fine-pointed pen (erasable pens allow for neat alteration) or pencil.” “Now that you’re finished (you are finished, aren’t you?), we will proceed.”
Browse all articles on the Punctuation category or check the recommended content for you below:
Improve your English in 5 minutes a day! Subscribe to our Writing Tips and Exercises via Email
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!