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Stand Apart from the Crowd (with Parentheses)

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Parentheses offset text that isn’t important to the meaning of a sentence. Things like extra information, clarifications, asides, or citations. The information inside the parentheses can be as short as a number or a word, or it can be as long as a few sentences. Parentheses always appear in pairs. They’re often used where commas would also be appropriate.

Clarifying and Adding Extra

A sentence should be able to stand on its own without the parenthetical information. For example: “The little girl (and her baby doll) skipped across the park to her mother.” Here, the primary subject is the little girl. The extra information in the parentheses isn’t necessary. You could delete it without changing the sentence’s meaning.

The information inside the parentheses can also work as an aside or a separate piece of the full story. Here’s an example: “Marshall needed to leave (his bus was departing soon) so he waved goodbye.” Here, the parenthetical text works clarifies the first part of the sentence. It adds extra information without cluttering the sentence.

Punctuation and Parentheses

If the information inside the parentheses is a complete sentence, you’d usually put the period inside the closing parenthesis. This is a point up for debate (it’s not unusual to see punctuation outside the parentheses, as in this sentence). However, if the information is a fragment and the parenthetical comes at the end of the larger sentence, the closing punctuation mark should be outside the closing parenthesis.

When the parentheses appear in the middle of a sentence that needs a comma or other punctuation, the punctuation should appear after the closing parenthesis. Commas rarely come before the first parenthesis. For example: “We brought the winning lottery ticket with us ($200), but to our dismay, the shop had closed early.”

Parentheses for Citations

MLA format uses parentheses for in-text citations. Parenthetical citations come after a direct quote or paraphrase, and typically include the author’s last name and the page number of the quote, depending on the information. The text inside the parentheses should give enough information for a reader to consult the paper’s Works Cited page and track down the source. For example: “Fire imagery permeates Fahrenheit 451 from the first sentence: ‘It was a pleasure to burn’ (Bradbury 1).”

In general, the role of parentheses is to provide extra information without overwhelming the main sentence. Although there may be other ways to insert the information, the parentheses also allow for a visual break in the text. This is one grammatical instance where the rules aren’t so cut and dry.

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