3 Problematic Parentheticals
Each of the following sentences is muddled because a parenthetical phrase is incorrectly punctuated. Discussion of each example explains the problem, and one or more revisions resolve it.
1. This phase consists of a management experience whose intensity and scope has few, if any rivals.
The phrase “if any” is a parenthetical—a sentence element that is not essential to the sentence but provides additional information or otherwise modifies the main clause. Parenthetical phrases must be set off with a pair of punctuation marks (parentheses, dashes, or, most commonly, commas): “This phase consists of a management experience whose intensity and scope has few, if any, rivals.”
2. The operational risks of widespread automation, for example loss of service and technical problems around delivery, could lead to wholesale firms being unable to transact.
The parenthetical phrase “for example” must be set off from the stated example, which itself, with the parenthetical, must be set off from the main clause: “The operational risks of widespread automation—for example, loss of service and technical problems around delivery—could lead to wholesale firms being unable to transact.” (Parentheses can replace the dashes, but to introduce a pair of commas would obscure the hierarchy of parenthesis within parenthesis.)
3. Smith, the superintendent of the park who has studied the history of the colony, said the photos are a reminder of the state’s rich and influential past.
The parenthetical phrase that describes Smith includes a phrase singling him out as one of two or more superintendents and identifies him as the one who has studied the history of the colony. However, Smith is the only superintendent, and the reference to his studies is additional, parenthetical information, so that phrase must be set off as a parenthesis modifying a parenthesis: “Smith, the park’s superintendent, who has studied the history of the colony, said the photos are a reminder of the state’s rich and influential past.”
Alternatively, the sentence can be reworded so that “the park’s superintendent” is the only parenthetical; “has studied the history of the colony” becomes the balance of the main clause, and the wording about his comment becomes an additional independent clause preceded by a conjunction: “Smith, the park’s superintendent, has studied the history of the colony, and he said the photos are a reminder of the state’s rich and influential past.”
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