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Parentheses indicate that the writer feels that the material contained within is of less importance or should be deemphasized.

Rule: Use parentheses to enclose words or figures that clarify or are used as an aside.

Example: I expect five hundred dollars ($500).
A previous Grammar Tip, now on our website as a Grammar Blog entitled, "Writing Numbers as Words," treats this in more detail.

Example: He finally answered (after taking five minutes to think) that he did not understand the question.

Rule: Use commas, not parentheses, around an interruption to indicate it is of equal importance with the rest of the sentence.

Example: He finally answered, after taking five minutes to think, that he did not understand the question.

Rule: Use Em dashes around an interruption that you wish to emphasize.

Example: He finally answered–after taking five minutes to think–that he did not understand the question.

You really can “hear” the differences in tone just by the choice of punctuation, can’t you?

Rule: Use full parentheses to enclose numbers of listed items in a sentence.

Example: We need an emergency room physician who can (1) think quickly, (2) treat patients respectfully, and (3) handle complaints from the public.

Note: You may also use a period with numbers: (1.) think quickly, (2.) treat…
Just be consistent within your document.

Rule: Periods go inside parentheses if an entire sentence is inside the parentheses.

Examples: Please read the analysis. (I enclosed it as Attachment A.)
Please read the analysis (Attachment A).
Please read the analysis (enclosed as Attachment A).

Due to the E-Newsletter's large readership, we are only able to respond to individual English usage questions if submitted through GrammarBook.com's "Grammar Blog."

Pop Quiz

Place parentheses where needed.

1. She requested actually she pleaded that her name be withheld.
2. This contract guarantees that we will 1 deliver the merchandise and 2 pay for all damaged goods.

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During a lesson on pronouns, a teacher asks for a volunteer to use the word “I” in a sentence. Not surprisingly, the teacher’s pet raises her hand.

“Yes, Lorna,” the teacher sighs, giving in. “Can you use ‘I’ in a sentence?”

Lorna begins, “‘I’ is…” but before she can continue, the teacher interrupts, thinking she finally has the opportunity to show up the show off.

“Lorna, we always begin with ‘I’ am.”

“Oh,” Lorna responds with a puzzled look. “OK. ‘I’ am the ninth letter of the alphabet!”

Pop Quiz Answers

1. She requested (actually she pleaded) that her name be withheld. OR, if I hadn't specifically asked you to use parentheses, you could have answered:
She requested, actually she pleaded, that her name be withheld. or She requested–actually she pleaded–that her name be withheld.

2. This contract guarantees that we will (1) deliver the merchandise and (2) pay for all damaged goods.

68 One-Minute English Usage Videos

English In A Snap: 68 One-Minute English Usage Videos FREE 

Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.

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