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Using parentheses and brackets Editor's Notes #141
March 18, 2013

I hold that the parentheses are by far the most important parts of a non-business letter.
--D.H. Lawrence

In this issue:

1. Using parentheses and brackets
2. Tickled my funnybone
3. Interesting Web site

1. Using parentheses and brackets
A writer asked me to explain how she should be using parentheses and brackets. Let me share the answer with you.

Uses of parentheses
Parentheses set aside intrusive material. They show a stronger break in thought than commas or em dashes show. I'll be explaining the parentheses most of us will use in connected text. Other special uses include citations, references, and numbered lists. Check your publisher's guide for details on how to style the special uses.

Punctuating parentheses
Parentheses always come in pairs. Like quotation marks, they enclose material.

The sentence containing the parentheses is punctuated as if there were no parentheses. If the parenthetical expression is at the end of the sentence, the end punctuation is outside of the parentheses.

As you can see (and I assume you are looking), I could simply scoop the parenthetical bit out of this sentence, and everything would be perfectly punctuated.

The part inside the parentheses is written and punctuated as if it were not in parentheses except at the end. Punctuate the end of the parenthetical material only if it requires a question mark or an exclamation mark.

The rule is (who are we to argue?) that only ? and ! may end a parenthetical expression within a sentence. Did you get (I mean really get) that?

If a whole sentence is in parentheses, the end punctuation is inside the parentheses.

(This example shows you exactly what a whole parenthetical sentence on its own looks like.)

Do not put a parenthetical enclosure of more than one sentence within a sentence.

When the parenthetical expression contains more than one sentence, it should not be inside a sentence. (Now how confusing is that! Are you still with me?) This paragraph gives an example, which I am hoping is worth a thousand words or so.

Using square brackets
Square brackets enclose material added by someone other than an original author. Examples: editorial comment, translation, explanation, or correction.

Square brackets can also be used as parentheses within parentheses.

Punctuating square brackets
Punctuate square brackets in the same way as parentheses. See above.


2.Tickled my funnybone
Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft and I'll show you A-flat minor.


3. Interesting Web site
Search for specific quotes by authors.

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