Parentheses, like some commas and dashes, are used to set off parenthetical material. There are no clearly defined rules for determining where to use each mark, but here are some suggested guidelines.

  1. Use commas to set off a parenthetical element which is closely connected to the thought of the sentence.
    Parentheses, like commas and dashes, are used to set off parenthetical material.
  2. Use dashes to set off a loosely connected element that you want to emphasize.
    Citizens want information--not a sales job--about the hazards of dredging the bay.
  3. Use parentheses to set off supplementary or explanatory material that you want to minimize.
    Writers should use examples (for instances) to support their claims.

Parentheses and Other Punctuation

  1. Within a sentence, even material that could form a complete sentence need not begin with a capital nor end with an end mark when the material is enclosed in parentheses.
    I wish (don't you?) that it were Friday.
  2. The punctuation mark belonging to material given before the parentheses should be placed after the second parenthesis.
    If you come to see me (and I hope you do), be sure to bring your tennis racket.
  3. Parentheses enclosing an entire sentence should also enclose the end mark.
    Applicants should fill out the forms provided. (Include a daytime phone number.)
  4. Parenthetical elements located within a sentence should not enclose the end mark.
    All Western students must take a writing proficiency course (usually in their majors).


  1. Use brackets to enclose any interpolation or insertion that you add to material being quoted.
    Robert Burns wrote a letter which included this sentence: "So may God ever defend the cause of truth and liberty as he did that day [the day of Bruce's victory over Edward II]."