To Beat a Grammarian: Parentheses

To Beat a Grammarian: Parentheses

I had a friend once, who, when writing letters to me, would add roughly a parenthetical sentence every other line. Some found it annoying. I found it refreshing. It kept me on my toes. In this way, the camp on parentheses, clearly, is divided. Just ask anyone who has ever read Salinger’s Seymour, an Introduction.


The point is: not many people use it, except for its most basic use. However, it can be quite entertaining if done well. So let’s get to it.

Parentheses: to enclose text that is meant as a side note, or is considered extra but not needed information.


Teaching here in Korea, I’ve noticed some people take this to heart. When reading, should they encounter a set of parentheses, they just skip over it. After all, didn’t the definition say, “…not needed information.” Isn’t that just a euphemism for ‘trash?’

I hope not. But sadly, this is the way it works. In fact, many editors and such have gone so far as to want the parentheses thrown out. Outrageous—yes! Uncalled for—maybe no. As for myself, I have no ability with them, but it doesn’t mean I’d like to see them exiled. Maybe, that’s just me. Nonetheless, here we go.

A set of parentheses should be used for added info, like this:

Ex.1 The National Rifle Association (NRA) has declared guns awesome for settling debts.

Ex.2 When presented with the proposal to ban guns, gun lobbyists said they fight would back. They have guns after all (yikes!).

Ex.3 My gun-totting friend said we need all the firearms possible to protect against criminals yet has never been mugged or been on the violent end of crime. (He is not particularly smart.)

As you can see, in each situation, the parentheses gave us a little extra, whether it be an abbreviation—which may be useful; a personal yet comical aside—which can help lighten the mood; or just too point out what the reader may not fully infer from the prior sentences.

In essence, I’ve heard parentheses are the opposite of the dash. If you keep that in mind, you should do okay.


*To note: When adding a parenthetical phrase to a sentence, make sure you do it right. Example one shows that if it comes mid-sentence, you just toss it in with no added punctuation. Example two points out that if you add a parenthetical sentence within a sentence, then you need no capitalization and an ending punctuation should go outside the markers. Lastly, the third example shows that if the parenthetical phrase is a sentence on its own, then all the needed punctuation is enclosed within the parentheses.

Hope that helped.

One thought on “To Beat a Grammarian: Parentheses

  1. Great points, Tim. I don’t like parentheses very much, I confess. I don’t use them in a manuscript at all. I think I devised an unconscious system whereby I actively avoid constructions that might validly require them 😀


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