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The following is a list of many of the uses of parentheses.

1) Parentheses to Enclose Numbers or Letters in a Series

Sometimes there are numbers or letters that need to be separated from the rest of the text in a series. There is some flexibility in how you use parentheses to do it, but make you should be consistent.


  • Three elements to a story include (1) characters, (2) setting, and (3) plot.
  • Three elements to a story include 1) characters, 2) setting, and 3) plot.
  • Three elements to a story include 1.) characters, 2.) setting, and 3.) plot
  • Three elements to a story include (a) characters, (b) setting, and (c) plot.
  • Three elements to a story include a) characters, b) setting, and c) plot.
  • Three elements to a story include a.) characters, b.) setting, and c.) plot.

2) Parentheses to Enclose Supplemental Information

This "supplemental information" includes asides, tangents, and afterthoughts. In general, anything that can be removed from the sentence without altering its meaning can be enclosed in parentheses. Take a look at the following examples to get a better idea of what counts as extraneous material.

  • For the last five years (some say longer), the house on the hill has been haunted.
  • We read Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" (one of my favorite stories) this semester in class.

3) Parentheses to Indicate the Plural of Nouns

Sometimes you may not know whether or not you are dealing with a noun that is singular or plural. As a reminder, nouns are persons, places, things or ideas. At other times, you may actually try to hide from your audience how many (if any) of the nouns are present. The following are examples of both uses:

  • If anyone has any information about the person(s) who committed this crime, please call the sheriff's office.
  • In the following section of the exam, circle the grammatical error(s) in each of the sentences.

4) Parentheses to Indicate an Acronym

Acronyms are a combination of letters that stand for something. Examples of acronyms: FBI, NASA, CIA, MADD, HTML. Acronyms are used in situations in which spelling out the entire phrase or organization would be time-consuming and tedious. When introducing an acronym for the first time you will usually spell out the acronym first, then put the acronym is parentheses.

  • President Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958.
  • The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is to stop drunk driving altogether.

5) Use Parentheses to Enclose Dates

When including the dates for a person or event, place them in parentheses immediately to the right of the person or event. This rule is pretty straightforward.

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) is one of my favorite poets.
  • Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) is an inspiration to aspiring authors everywhere.

6) Use Parentheses to Enclose Citations

Parentheses also play a role in citation, but the exact way depends on the citation format used. You will learn more about citation later in this course.
  • "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" (Dickens).
  • "Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe and examin" (Twain).


Last modified: Thursday, 14 June 2012, 4:19 PM