Punctuation: Parentheses

Definition: a punctuation mark; a pair of round brackets ( ) used to mark off a parenthetical word or phrase.

Note: Do not rely on grammar or spelling checkers to identify missing or misused punctuation. Although a checker may flag possibly missing or incorrect marks, it cannot do much else. While I still recommend using these AI checkers while you’re writing, I insist that you also trust a qualified human being to copyedit any work that you are working toward publishing.

Not to be confused with brackets [ ], chevrons < >, or braces { }. A parenthesis, usually coming in opening and closing pairs called parentheses, are more commonly used in non-fiction, though they can be effective in fiction writing as well, if done correctly. They can be used to enclose parenthetical material or used typographically with numbered lists.

To Set Off Material

Use parentheses to enclose material not necessary to the sentence. This means that the sentence should still make sense even without the material.

  • e.g. Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman (21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016) was an English actor and director. [From Wikipedia]

In fiction, parentheses are used for additional information within a sentence, as asides, or even as complete sentences.

  • e.g. As a last resort (as a very last resort), I sought out Meg McCaffrey. [From The Hidden Oracle; Rick Riordan]
  • e.g. Finally, Albert said, “From what you’ve told me, your past experiences haven’t been the best.” (Jonathan scoffed.) “Your classes this year are likely to be better than you’ve ever had, but I’m not sure of my own.”

Used Typographically

Use parentheses to enclose letters or numbers introducing a list.

  • e.g. When we got to the campground, I made sure that we had (1) a dry spot to set up, (2) all of our gear, and (3) a good place to store our food.

Use only an end/closing parenthesis in a lettered/numbered list. This cannot be used within running text.

  • e.g. The zoo’s big cat exhibit featured

1) lions
2) tigers
3) panthers

With Other Punctuation

If any period, comma, colon, or semicolon is used within a sentence, it is placed after the closing parenthesis, not before.

  • e.g. The actor for Grindelwald has changed for each of the Fantastic Beast films (2016–2022); it’s almost like the role is cursed.

Question marks and exclamation points can be placed within parentheses or not, depending on the context.

  • e.g. Sally was quite drunk (when was she not?) before the party even really got started.
  • e.g. Michael drove six hours to get to Las Vegas (without me)!

Other punctuation, like periods and commas, can be placed inside or outside of parentheses depending on whether the enclosed material is its own sentence or part of the larger sentence.

  • e.g. I walked home in the dark. (It wasn’t the first time.)
  • e.g. At the potluck, the neighbours brought all sorts of food (salads, casseroles, chilli).

For further information, see my other Punctuation articles:


Aaron, J.E. & Morrison, A. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook, 5th Canadian ed. Pearson, 2013, chap 5

Judd, K. Copyediting, A Practical Guide, 3rd ed. California, CA: Crisp Learning, 2001, chap 4

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