Parenthesis — a Choice of Parentheses (Commas, Dashes, or Brackets)
The Quick AnswerA parenthesis is additional information added into a sentence as an explanation or an afterthought. A parenthesis can be shown using two brackets, two commas, or two dashes. The choice is yours. Here are some guidelines:
- Using Dashes. Your parenthesis will be easily seen, but dashes can look a little stark.
- Using Commas. Commas make for a normal-looking sentence, but commas can be confused with other commas in the sentence.
- Using Brackets: Your parenthesis will be easily seen, but brackets can make official letters look a little unorganized.
For Parenthesis, Use Commas, Dashes or BracketsA parenthesis is additional information added into a sentence as an explanation or an afterthought. For example (parenthesis shaded):
- John, a 7-year-old cat from Doncaster, hid in the engine area of his owner's car for a 60-mile trip to the seaside.
- Peter, I've heard it said, used to be a drag queen before he took up body building.
(Note: The word parentheses is often used to mean brackets. Therefore, to avoid confusion, you will often see brackets (i.e., parentheses), commas, dashes grouped under the term parenthetical punctuation as opposed to parentheses.)
It is your choice which style of parentheses you use. It is normal to use commas, but they can be easily confused with other commas in the sentence. Brackets will make your parenthesis easily identifiable, but brackets can look a little informal. To make your parenthesis really stand out, you can use dashes, but they can look a little stark.
Try reading each example with the parenthesis removed. It will still make sense.
- Jamie Buxton, who fainted in church during his wedding, apologized to his wife by booking two tickets to New York. (The parentheses chosen by the writer were commas. However, brackets or dashes could equally have been used.)
- At midnight last night, Skip (a guard dog for Bonds Ltd in Bury) hospitalized two burglars before returning to eat the steaks they had thrown him. (The writer has chosen brackets because there is already a comma in the sentence.)
- Dave Jenkins' best friend, Adam Wright-Smith, stabbed him through the heart whilst testing a knife-proof jacket; Dave is expected to make a full recovery. (The writer has chosen commas, possibly because there are already two hyphens in the sentence, and dashes look similar to hyphens.)
- The slow cooker I purchased at your store is, for all intents and purposes, utterly useless.
- Darius, on the other hand, writes his own songs.
- On a happier note, her latest song — Wind Me Up Baby — is, according to those in the know, expected to enter the charts in the top 5. (Wind Me Up Baby is a parenthesis, and so is according to those in the know. Try reading the sentence with them removed. It still makes sense.)
- It rained all day, and, as a result, the hut collapsed. (It is not uncommon for a conjunction (here, and) to be preceded by a comma and followed by a comma. The first comma is required because the and starts an independent clause (i.e., it has nothing to do with the parenthesis). The second comma is required because it is the start of the parenthesis as a result. Many writers feel uncomfortable with surrounding a word like and with commas, and they omit one. The commas are correct. Be confident. Leave them all in.)
- It rained all day and, as a result, the hut collapsed.
- It rained all day, and as a result, the hut collapsed.
dashes used for parenthesis
However, As a ResultInserted comments such as however, therefore, as a result, as far as I am concerned, for all intents and purposes, subsequently, so to speak, etc. fall into the category of parenthesis too. (As a rule, brackets are not used with these.)
Parenthesis?A parenthesis adds more information to a sentence:
- Kent Oliver won his first race on Tuesday. (There is no parenthesis in this example.)
- Kent Oliver — the only professional jockey from Jersey — won his first race on Tuesday. (The words the only professional jockey from Jersey add more information. In this example, the parenthesis is between two dashes.)
- Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, was allergic to carrots. (The words the voice of Bugs Bunny add more information. In this example, the parenthesis is between two commas.)
What Should I Use for Parentheses?It is your choice whether to use commas, brackets , or dashes for parentheses. Below are some guidelines:
- Dashes — parenthesis easily seen, but dashes look a little stark
- Commas — normal-looking sentence, but commas are often confused with other commas in the sentence
- Brackets — parenthesis easily seen, but brackets make official letters look a little unorganized
Don't Forget to End the ParenthesisAlways remember to end a parenthesis. When using commas or dashes, writers often forget to end the parenthesis. This is as wrong as not closing a pair of brackets.
- Danny, however had sharp features and greasy hair. (Another comma is needed after however.)
- The zander — one of the fastest fish in British waters often school together around the edges of lakes. (Another dash is needed after waters.)
Parenthesis in AppositionThe term in apposition just means the same. When a parenthesis is the same thing as whatever it follows, it is called parenthesis in apposition.
- Kent Oliver — the only professional jockey from Jersey — won his first race on Tuesday. (Kent Oliver is the professional jockey. This is parenthesis in apposition.)
- At midnight last night, Skip (a guard dog for Bonds Ltd in Bury) hospitalised two intruders who broke into the company yard. (Skip is the guard dog. This is parenthesis in apposition.)
- Jamie Buxton, who fainted in church during his wedding, apologized to his wife... (This is not parenthesis in apposition.)