To use a parenthetical phrase correctly, put a space before the opening parenthesis and after the closing parenthesis. You do not need to leave spaces inside the parentheses, and you do not need to leave a space between a closing parenthesis and a punctuation mark.
Here’s how to use parentheses correctly in a sentence.
What Parentheses Do
Parentheses, which are always used in pairs, allow you to insert optional information into a sentence. This can be done to provide more detail or give commentary on the subject of the sentence.
Parenthetical phrases, enclosed in parentheses, can be as short as a single word or as long as several complete sentences. They do not have to stand on their own apart from the sentence to be considered grammatically correct.
An interesting trick for using parentheses is to see whether the sentence makes sense once the phrase is removed. Because the phrase is intended to be additional information, it should not be the deciding factor on the correctness of the sentence it is contained within.
- Max (and Ruby) lived with Martha and John. – CORRECT.
- Max (and Ruby) were siblings. – INCORRECT.
If the sentence does make sense without the parenthetical phrase, you’re using them correctly; if not, you’ll need to rewrite your sentence without the parentheses.
How to Use Parentheses in a Sentence
When writing in a parenthetical phrase, leave a space between the preceding word and the opening parenthesis, and one between the closing parenthesis and the following word.
- The dog (belonging to Sam) was very cute. – CORRECT.
Don’t add a space after the opening parenthesis, between it and the start of the parenthetical phrase, or between the end of the phrase and the closing parenthesis. This creates an unnecessary and somewhat jarring break in the flow of the sentence.
- The dog ( belonging to Sam ) was very cute. – INCORRECT.
If using a parenthetical phrase at the end of a sentence, place the closing punctuation – period, exclamation point, or question mark – outside of the parentheses with no space. This is because the parentheses are designed to be removable, and including the closing punctuation inside of them would leave the sentence incomplete.
- The date of the trial was August 15, 2021 (almost a year after the incident).
- Mary Ann was the most beautiful girl in school (was it any surprise I liked her?).
- He was a millionaire in his own right (and he was only twenty!).
If the parenthetical phrase is a question or particularly emphatic, you can include the appropriate symbol inside of the parentheses, but you will still need to add punctuation after the closing parenthesis.
Parenthetical phrases can make your writing more detailed and offer a personal flair to it that would otherwise interrupt the writing. They offer a way to give more information without breaking the flow of the sentence.
Using a parenthetical phrase (with proper punctuation, no less) is not as difficult as it seems, as long as you know what they do and how their basic rules work.