When to Use Parentheses

When to Use Parentheses Video

Welcome to this Mometrix lesson about parentheses. I will be discussing when parentheses can become relevant in your writing.

Proper Usage

Ultimately, parentheses function as separation tools, meaning they are used to separate pieces of information from the main sentence. More specifically, parentheses can be used to contain information overall unnecessary to the crux of the sentence. They can also be used when an author wishes to interrupt the main sentence with his/her personal insight. Parentheses are a useful tool as well when the writer is unsure of the quantity of something being mentioned.

Another role of parentheses is in citations for a paper you are writing. Lastly, there will be instances when you may be giving a quote and find that specific information is typically left out of it when generally referenced. However, if you wish to include this typically omitted information, you can use parentheses to hug that information and make it feel included.

Let’s look at some examples!

Up first: using parentheses to set apart information that is otherwise unnecessary to the main sentence.

The art teacher could not decide if she should first teach her students about primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) or primary shapes (square, circle, triangle, etc.) seeing as both are essential components in a drawing class.

In this example, we see that the words in parentheses neither add nor take away meaning from the sentence as is.

Our next example is probably something you have seen pretty often and may not have realized what was going on. Let’s say that you are writing a story or an informal essay, and you wish to insert your opinion into the main idea without completely disrupting it. You guessed it: You should use parentheses when you want to interrupt a main storyline (which you have written) with your opinion.

Although he saw the police cars outside of the bank, John decided he needed to deposit his check at all costs. Upon entering the bank, he was met by a masked man demanding his crisp, new check (lesson: don’t avoid the obvious signs in life).

In this example, the words in parentheses are an addition made by the author that without parentheses would disrupt the flow of the sentences. Once being placed inside the parentheses, however, the words serve as mere commentary by the author in the midst of the larger narrative.

Parentheses, if you haven’t caught on yet, have a big hand to play in how the writer connects with the reader. For this next example, we see how a writer can use parentheses to relate to a wider audience and scope of situation when they are placed around a suffix, or word ending aside from the root of the word.

Let’s say a jewelry store is running a special on their polishing services. They need to create a written advertisement for the special. An employee might write on their sign,
“New Half-off Special! For this month only, we will polish your ring(s)!”

Using parentheses around the “s” at the end of “ring” allows for some wiggle room with the advertisement concerning who exactly is affected by the sale. Because the employees at the store cannot know how many rings each client has, it is better for them to allow for the possible of either one or multiple rings. This strategy for parentheses can also be used with other suffixes (ed, d, es, etc).

Parenthetical Citations in Academic Writing

One of the main occurrences of parentheses you are likely to encounter is in an academic setting. It’s no secret that students are expected to write essays and research a variety of topics for those papers. That being said, those resources used throughout the paper must be cited according to the appropriate writing style being used for that paper. The citation style will vary depending on the discipline you are writing within; some will use notes and some parenthetical citations. Rules for the usage of parentheses (for in text citations) across the different formats are as follows:

MLA & APA: When citing a quote in the middle of a paper, typically the author’s last name followed by the page number(s) will appear in parentheses. Depending on whether or not end punctuation is a part of the main quote will determine whether your punctuation is placed inside of the parentheses or outside of it.
EXAMPLE (Smith 67)

CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE: Unless mentioned previously in the sentence, typically an in-text citation for this writing style will include the author’s(s’) last name(s), year of publication, and the page number(s).
EXAMPLE (Smith and Jones 1998, 56) or (Jones 1999, 35)

The last example is a little more advanced, but it is just something neat to have in your knowledge-of-parentheses-toolbox.

Let’s say you are utilizing a quote in a paper. The quote is a common turn of phrase “Money is the root of all evil.” However, you do a bit of research and discover that this is a misquote from the first book of Timothy in the Christian Bible. The full quote is, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” This is quite a bit different.

So, you have a few ways you can go about this, one of which is to place the standard quote in quotations and the often excluded portion within parentheses. This would result in the following:

“(The love of) money is the root of all (kinds of) evil.”

The information in parentheses for this example represents information that has been typically omitted in the cited text.
Again, this is not something you will normally run across, however it is always fun to learn something new!

Thanks for learning about parentheses with me and be sure to check out our other videos for all of your grammar needs! Before you go, don’t forget to hit that like button and subscribe.


Return to Writing Videos



by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: January 31, 2024