Parentheses and Brackets
by Cherie Tucker
the old typewriter days, there were no brackets on the keyboard.
Legal documents that could have no handwritten corrections had to
use parentheses inside of parentheses. Consequently, interruptions
within parentheses were confusing. Double parentheses at the end of
a sentence looked strange and always reminded me of the eyes of
Charles Shultzís Lucy when sheís upset or surprised. Fortunately
we donít have to worry about that anymore. We have both brackets
and parentheses, and they have separate duties.
Parentheses indicate a whispered interruption in the flow of the
sentence. They provide a sotto voce bit of information just
at the moment it is needed without distracting the reader from the
main point. If the parenthetical portion is a part of the sentence,
you donít need any punctuation before it to indicate that there is
about to be an interruption; the parentheses do that for you.
The florist will deliver them (all tulips this time) on
Where to put the end punctuation is dictated by whether the
parenthetical section is a part of the sentence or is a complete
sentence that is parenthetical. If within the sentence, the
punctuation mark comes after the closing parenthesis.
I hope they arrive on time this year (for a change).
Is the meeting still on (I hope)?
If the entire thought is parenthetical, then the punctuation comes
(Thereís that guy I want you to meet. Look happy.)
If the text inside the parentheses is a complete sentence, donít
capitalize the first word (unless itís a proper noun, of course) and
donít use end punctuation unless it is different from the
punctuation that ends the sentence.
Should I take the Main Street exit (Iíve not done that
Take the Main Street exit (isnít that what Jim said?).
Brackets are necessary if you interrupt your interruption. They
indicate that the reader is still within the parentheses but there
is a further interruption.
He said you looked different (from what I canít imagine
All clear (I hope)?
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washingtonís Editing Certification program and edits