English Grammar Basic Grammar and syntax

What is parentheses? (with examples)

What is parentheses? (with examples)

A parenthesis is a word, phrase, or clause inserted into a sentence as an explanation or afterthought. When a parenthesis is removed, the text around it remains grammatically correct.

A parenthesis is usually offset by parentheses (ie brackets), commas, or hyphens. These are called punctuation marks in parentheses.

A parenthesis is sometimes called a“switch“, since it interrupts the flow of text.

Examples of Parenthesis

These are some examples of parentheses (shaded):

Parenthesis Offset with Parentheses (Brackets)

  • Andrew Jacklin (last year’s losing finalist) is expected to win this heat.
  • The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. (Journalist HL Mencken)

When parentheses (round brackets) are used to offset a parenthesis, the parenthesis is easily seen. However, some writers feel that parentheses can make formal texts look unorganized.

Parenthesis Offset with Commas

  • Paul, on the other hand, is considered extremely trustworthy.
  • House prices in Alton, which is only 25 minutes from London, are soaring.
  • Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth but supreme beauty. (Philosopher Bertrand Russell)

When commas are used to offset a parenthesis, it keeps the focus on the surrounding text. As commas play other roles in sentences (e.g., to separate list items and to offset adverbial phrases), readers can sometimes become confused over where a parenthesis starts and ends.

Also, if a parenthesis itself contains a comma or commas, it is advisable to avoid commas to offset it. For example:

  • Dave Bellamy, like his father, Peter Bellamy, last year, was victorious in this year’s regional pie-making finals.
    (This could be confusing.)
  • Dave Bellamy (like his father, Peter Bellamy, last year) was victorious in this year’s regional pie-making finals.
    (This version is clearer.)


Parenthesis Offset with Dashes

  • They roasted the winning brisket — the size of a pillow — in a mighty clay oven.
  • If mankind minus one were of one opinion, then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the one — if he had the power — would be justified in silencing mankind. (Philosopher John Stuart Mill)

When dashes are used to offset a parenthesis, it increases the focus on the parenthesis.

Parenthesis in Apposition

“parentheses in apposition“is a word(s) used to rename or re-describe a nearby noun (usually the one immediately to its left). Like any parentheses, it can be removed without damaging the grammatical structure of the sentence. For example (parentheses in shaded apposition):

  • Peter, my mate from school, won the lottery.
    (The parenthesis re-describes“Peter,“the noun to its left.)

Why Should I Care about Parenthesis?

A text without a single parenthesis would be quite boring to read. The additional information, aside, clarification, or afterthought provided by a parenthesis in a sentence is often essential to keeping readers informed, engaged, on track, or aligned with the author’s thinking. Therefore, writers should be comfortable with the use of parentheses.

Here are three noteworthy points related to parentheses.

(Point 1) Choose the right parenthetical punctuation.

The prominence of your parentheses and the flow of your sentence will depend on your choice of punctuation in parentheses. Remember that it is your choice to use commas, brackets or hyphens. Here is a summary of the guidelines:

(Point 2) Offset your parenthesis with two parenthetical punctuation marks.

A parenthesis is offset by two parentheses, two commas, or two hyphens. If a parenthesis ends a sentence, the second parenthesis is removed. This is the only time parenthetical punctuation marks do not appear in pairs. It’s a common mistake (especially with commas) to use only one.

  • Lee, however has never caught a decent bass. ❌
    (Another comma is required after“however.“)
  • Otters — a menace for fish farmers will travel miles in search of a well-stocked lake. ❌
    (Another dash is required after“farmers.“)

(Point 3) You don’t have to offset a short, obvious parenthesis.

If a parenthesis is short and obvious, it is acceptable not to use punctuation in parentheses. For example:

  • John, however, drinks like a fish. ✔️
  • John however drinks like a fish. ✔️
  • John, on the other hand, drinks like a fish. ✔️
  • John on the other hand drinks like a fish.
    (We’ve not marked this wrong, but it is starting to push the bounds of acceptability. If in doubt, use parenthetical punctuation.)

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