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Parentheses and punctuation

Asked by [ Admin ]

Where should the full stop and question mark be (if any) if a sentence ends with parentheses?

Example 1:

... or declare them bad (think exploding laptop batteries) [a]

or

... or declare them bad (think exploding laptop batteries.) [b]

or

... or declare them bad (think exploding laptop batteries). [c]

Context.


Example 2:

Consider:

How do ... or otherwise (if we don't even know the name of the cookie)

Should it be:

How do ... or otherwise? (if we don't even know the name of the cookie.) [a]

or

How do ... or otherwise (if we don't even know the name of the cookie?) [b]

or

How do ... or otherwise (if we don't even know the name of the cookie)? [c]

or

How do ... or otherwise? (If we don't even know the name of the cookie). [d]

Context.


Update: Grammar Girl, episode 233 (2010-07-30) covers the solution to example 1, among other things. For episode 233: Podcast (MP3, 6.4 MB) and web page.

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1 answer

2

donald remero [ Moderator ]

Parenthetical statements are most commonly treated as being "inside" the sentence, between the initial capital letter and the closing period or question mark. In determining the various grammatical alignments required to make a properly formed sentence, especially including noun-verb agreement (singular or plural), the content in parenthesis is NOT considered. In other words, the main part of the sentence must be grammatically correct if the parenthetical material were removed. Note that "parenthetical statements" can be offset by commas, parenthesis or em dashes.

Example 1:
The answer is 'c.'

Example 2:
The answer is 'c.'

Less commonly, parenthetical statements are considered as parenthetical to the paragraph. This, however, is almost always restricted to parenthetical statements that include one or more complete sentences that stand apart, typically as a digression, from the primary flow of text.

In example 2, it is arguable whether parenthesis is the right punctuation to use for the parenthetical material, which is actually more explanatory than parenthetical. This sentence should arguably read:

How do ... or otherwise if we don't even know the name of the cookie?

As above, modern trends would dictate the absence of a comma to offset the clause beginning with "if." But, it would not be necessarily incorrect to do so, especially if it assisted in the clarity of the sentence. If emphasis or highlighting of the qualifier is intended or preferred, then a dash is the most appropriate punctuation, which may additionally be assisted with an adverb:

How do ... or otherwise—especially if we don't even know the name of the cookie?

NN comments
peter mortensen
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Regarding: “Parenthetical statements are most commonly treated as being "inside” the sentence, between the initial capital letter and the closing period or question mark.“. Isn’t this different in American English? The full stop being inside the parenthetical statement in American English (?)

peter mortensen
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I like the answer exactly as it is. I have a clarifying question. Regarding: “Parenthetical statements are most commonly treated as being "inside” the sentence, between the initial capital letter and the closing period or question mark.“. Isn’t this different in American English? The full stop being inside the parenthetical statement in American English (?)

peter mortensen
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Remero: I like your answer exactly as it is. I have a clarifying question. Regarding: “Parenthetical statements are most commonly treated as being "inside” the sentence, between the initial capital letter and the closing period or question mark.“. Isn’t this different in American English? The full stop being inside the parenthetical statement in American English (?)

donald remero
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No, it is not any different (as with these parentheses here). You can have a question mark inside parentheses (say what?) within a single sentence. But what I think you may be thinking about is a difference with how quotation marks are treated. This can get tricky. I’m not exactly sure about the details of this potential difference–at least not without looking at a book or two. The Am. practice is to place the closing punctuation (full stop) inside the closing quotation mark in most situations. There are, however, exceptions to this rule that even experienced teachers and editors miss.

peter mortensen
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@Donald Remero: I think I was misled by http://stackoverflow.com/questions/164432/what-real-life-bad-habits-has-programming-given-you/164535#164535 as many of the commenters goes along with the claim. And at first glance a highly upvoted commenter seems to support it (but I think this is for a different situation): “(When a wholly detached expression or sentence is parenthesized, the final stop comes before the last mark of parenthesis.) Strunk & White 4th ed. page 36. ”

peter mortensen
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@Donald Remero: I think I was misled by http://stackoverflow.com/questions/164432/what-real-life-bad-habits-has-programming-given-you/164535#164535 as many of the commenters go along with the claim. And at first glance a highly upvoted commenter seems to support it (but I think this is for a different situation): “(When a wholly detached expression or sentence is parenthesized, the final stop comes before the last mark of parenthesis.) Strunk & White 4th ed. page 36. ”

donald remero
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: Yeah, the discussion that you reference could be a case study for… something in rhetoric or sociology. It starts erroneously with an assertion of exasperation or derision that is unwittingly a response to false assumption. My guess is that even the original poster meant to be talking about quotation marks, but for some reason keyed “()” instead. I’ve been reading British- and American-published books for a very long time and have failed to note any divergence with regard to “()”. Funny how the conversation went, but I am confident that it is completely misguided from the start. =)

peter mortensen
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Remero: minor thing: “But ,” (space before the comma).

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