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Parenthetical Punctuation

What Is Parenthetical Punctuation?

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Parenthetical punctuation is used in pairs to offset non-essential information in a sentence. There are three commonly used types of parenthetical punctuation:

(1) Commas

  • John Smith, a local plumber, won the lottery.

(2) Dashes

  • John Smith — a local plumber — won the lottery.

(3) Parentheses (i.e., Round Brackets)

  • John Smith (a local plumber) won the lottery.
The additional, non-essential information offset by parenthetical punctuation is called a parenthesis.

Table of Contents

  • Examples of Parenthetical Punctuation in Sentences
  • Commas, Dashes, or Parentheses?
  • Why Parenthetical Punctuation Is Important
  • Test Time!
parenthetical punctuation examples

Americans and Brits Use Different Terminology

In the US, the term "parentheses" is used specifically for round brackets. In the UK, "parentheses" does not specifically mean 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.

Commas, Dashes, or Parentheses?

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

commas

(pro) normal-looking sentence

(con) commas are often confused with other commas in the sentence


brackets

(pro) parenthesis easily seen

(con) brackets make official letters look a little unorganized


dashes

(pro) parenthesis easily seen

(con) dashes look a little stark

Why Parenthetical Punctuation Is Important

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.

Key Point

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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