Parentheses are among the more easily-recognizable punctuation marks. We see them when we read fiction, when we are going through instruction manuals, and we use them in math from a fairly early age. In writing, the primary purpose of parentheses is to include material without placing an emphasis on it, something that wouldn’t normally fit into the flow of the sentence, but needs to be included. For quick reference on different uses of parentheses, you may go here.

Parentheses are different from dashes and commas in that they are meant to de-emphasize text, rather than making it more important.  That is why in-text citations in research papers are encased in parentheses. The author wants to give credit to the works they referenced in his research, but without distracting from the main text.

Parentheses can be used in a variety of ways:

  • Robert Frost (who attended President Kennedy’s inauguration) was a great American Poet.
  • My mother lit up her cigarette and told me in between drags that she only smoked once in a while (yeah right).
  • When using i.e., or e.g., it is generally recommended to put those in parentheses.
  • Punctuate properly. Parentheses that are used as part of a sentence should be punctuated outside the parenthesis (like this).
  • Note: Parenthesis is singular; Parentheses is plural.
  • If you need to use one set of parentheses inside another set, use brackets. For example: “The Rolling Stones have released a few underrated albums (i.e., Big Hits [High Tide and Green Grass]).” It is not recommended you use multiple sets of parentheses and brackets, but at times it is unavoidable.

Like all other punctuation marks, using parentheses is at the discretion of the writer. Consider what your intention is for the sentence and compare the effect of dashes or commas when you are considering the parentheses. Which gives your reader the best interpretation of what you are trying to communicate? Because parentheses are so versatile, you will find that they are a great tool if used correctly.