Parenthetical Punctuation

by Craig Shrives

What Is Parenthetical Punctuation? (with Examples)

Parenthetical punctuation is used in pairs to offset additional information in a sentence. Parenthetical punctuation includes the following punctuation marks: commas, dashes, and parentheses (called "round brackets" in the UK).

The additional information offset by parenthetical punctuation is called a parenthesis.

Americans and Brits Use Different Terminology

In the US, the term "parentheses" is used specifically for round brackets. For many people in the UK, "parentheses" does not specifically denote round brackets but any type of parenthetical punctuation.

Examples of Parenthetical Punctuation in Sentences

Here are some examples of parenthetical punctuation in sentences. In each example, the parenthesis being offset is shaded.
  • Mrs Allan, 64 at the time, rang the police immediately.
  • (In this example, commas have been used as the parenthetical punctuation.)
Read more about using commas to offset a parenthesis.
  • Due to pub quizzes, Buzz Aldrin — the second man on the Moon — is now as famous as Neil Armstrong.
  • (In this example, dashes have been used.)
Read more about using dashes.
  • Mrs O'Grady's other macaw (called "Billy Two") rides a motorized skateboard.
  • (In this example, parentheses, i.e., round brackets, have been used.)
Read about using round and square brackets.

What Should I Use To Offset a Parenthesis?

It is your choice whether to use commas, dashes, or parentheses. Below are some guidelines:

(pro) normal-looking sentence
(con) commas are often confused with other commas in the sentence

(pro) parenthesis easily seen
(con) brackets make official letters look a little unorganized

(pro) parenthesis easily seen
(con) dashes look a little stark

Other Punctuation Marks

Here is a slider with lessons to the other punctuation marks:
Choosing whether to use commas, dashes, or parentheses (brackets) allows you:
  • Control the starkness of your parenthesis (Does it stand out? Is it unobtrusiveness?)
  • Reduce the risk that commas will be confused with other commas in the sentence.
  • Avoid parentheses (i.e., round brackets), which can look informal.
These are great tools to have in your writer's toolkit.

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