( ) Parentheses (US), Brackets (UK) ( … )

( ) Parentheses in English! What is the symbol () called? Parentheses (US) or Brackets (UK) are used to set off a part of a sentence that adds information to or is less important than the main body of a sentence.

Parentheses, Brackets ( )

What are parentheses?

These punctuation marks are curved lines, generally used in pairs, that set off a part of a sentence that adds information to the main text in a sentence, or is less important than the main text. The term “parentheses” is primarily American. In British English, “brackets” is more common.

When to use parentheses

Use these marks if you want to include information in a sentence, but show that it is less important than the main body of the sentence. If you use parentheses, your sentence should still be complete if you take out the part in the marks (which is known as a “parenthesis”).

Examples:

  • David Beckham (who spent part of his career in Italy) was perhaps Britain’s most popular footballer.
  • During the company lunch hour (12 noon–1 p.m.), the building completely empties out.
  • If you fly into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), you can book connections to many other Vietnamese cities.
  • The Toyota Camry (introduced in 1982) is one of the world’s best-selling cars.
  • Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta (established under Dutch rule in 1864) is one of the largest zoos in Southeast Asia.

In many cases, you can use either parentheses or commas to set off less important information in a sentence.

Examples:

  • Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta, established under Dutch rule in 1864, is one of the largest zoos in Southeast Asia.
  • Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta (established under Dutch rule in 1864) is one of the largest zoos in Southeast Asia.
  • The 50-lb. box of cat litter (the largest sold) is difficult for one person to carry.

If your sentence already has several commas, using parentheses may be clearer than adding still more commas.

  • The firefighters, who came from departments in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, were given a special commendation, plus full college scholarships, by the governor.

CLEARER

  • The firefighters (who came from departments in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin) were given a special commendation, plus full college scholarships, by the governor.

Other usages

A single parenthesis may be used after the numbers in a list. A period (full stop) is also correct in this case.

1) …

2) …

3) …

You can use these punctuation marks around the letter “s” to show that there may be only one of something, or there may be more than one.

  • The speeding ticket(s) I received shouldn’t be relevant to whether I can borrow your car. I promise I’ll be careful with it.

Parentheses within parentheses

Avoid constructions where parentheses are nested within other parentheses—these are likely to confuse the reader. If such a construction is necessary, however, use brackets (UK: square brackets) for the interior passage.

  • Of Beethoven‘s nine symphonies, only one (the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 [also the only one with a chorus], part of which is known as the “Ode to Joy”) was written in the 1820s.
  • The city of Toledo, Ohio (nicknamed the Glass City after the large glass manufacturing firms [such as Libbey Glass] located there), prospered in the early 20th century as American home building exploded.

() Parentheses infographic

() Parentheses (US), Brackets (UK) ( ... )

Learn more with punctuation rules and examples on how and when to use brackets in the US or square brackets in the UK.

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