3 Errors in Using Parentheses

By Mark Nichol

Parenthetical marks can cause difficulties for writers—and, as a result, for readers. In each of the following examples, parentheses are misused; discussion and revision of each sentence follow.

1. The act brings the United Kingdom into line with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) recommendations in dealing with bribery and corruption.

One writing convention is to insert an acronym or initialism of a term in parentheses after that term is introduced, after which the abbreviation, rather than the full term, is used in subsequent references. However, it is awkward to introduce a term in this manner when it appears in possessive form, with an apostrophe followed by s. In such cases, it is best to replace the possessive form with a prepositional phrase so that the parenthesis immediately follows the term itself: “The act brings the United Kingdom into line with the recommendations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in dealing with bribery and corruption.”

2. Moving tangible and nontangible (for example, data files and intellectual property) assets is an option.

Again, a parenthesis that provides more information should immediately follow the relevant word or phrase; in this case, the parenthetical refers not to “tangible and nontangible” but to assets: “Moving tangible and nontangible assets (for example, data files and intellectual property) is an option.”

3. This work does not cover all aspects of IT integration (those are laid out in a detailed IT integration plan that will take months to complete while parallel IT environments are operated).

This treatment of a parenthesis is not strictly wrong, but when the parenthesis consists of a complete sentence, it is clearer to treat it as such, with the first letter of the first word capitalized and with a period preceding the close parenthesis mark (and terminal punctuation following the preceding sentence): “This work does not cover all aspects of IT integration. (Those are laid out in a detailed IT integration plan that will take months to complete while parallel IT environments are operated.)” If, however, a complete sentence in parentheses falls within another sentence, leave the first letter of the first word lowercase and omit the period. (Exception: A question mark or exclamation point at the end of the wording in parentheses should be retained regardless of where the parenthesis falls.)

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3 Responses to “3 Errors in Using Parentheses”

  • Dale A. Wood

    The British are fond of doing things like the latter. There was a British TV series (“The Prisoner”) that had characters named “Number 6” (No. 6) and “Number 2” (No, 2). Big problems on their minds were that No. 6 did not know why he was No. 6, and No. 6 did not know who No. 1 was, and No. 2 would not tell him who No. 1 was.
    In the audience, we were left to wonder if No. 1 was Queen Elizabeth II, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, or someone sinister.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Now, why and when is one of these forms preferable over the other:
    a). NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
    b). British Overseas Air Company (BOAC).
    I don’t see much difference except when the abbreviations, initialisms, and acronyms get quite long, in which case I like this way:
    A&P (the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company), or
    ATSF (the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, Inc.), or
    Merrill Lynch (Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, & Smith, Inc.)
    I hate it when Journalists try to shorten “Merrill Lynch” to “Merrill”, when “Merrill Lynch” is an abbreviated form already. To take things to their logical conclusion “Merrill Lynch” —> “M.L.” —> “M”, but this reminds me of the James Bond movies in which there are characters named “M” and “Q”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    A quite common error in using parentheses is not being able to “nest” them properly, one inside of another. I guess that you are dealing at a lower level than that. Nesting requires the proper use of inside and outer parentheses in forms like [… ( … ) …]
    D.A.W.

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