The question of where to put the punctuation when using parentheses came up in the comments on one of my recent grammar posts, so I went off to find the answer.
It turns out, this one is easy!
When the parentheses are at the end of a sentence, it depends upon what is inside.
If it's a complete sentence, the period, question mark, or exclamation point stays inside with its sentence. (But then remember, the previous sentence must also end with a punctuation mark.)
- Please be here early. (We'll start precisely on time.)
- Remember to speak up. (Jerry is hard of hearing.)
If it's not a complete sentence, the punctuation goes outside.
- After two hours of work, the team was unhappy with its progress (or lack of progress).
What if the parenthetical phrase is in the middle of a sentence?
Even if it's a complete sentence, it should neither be capitalized nor end with a period. However, when it adds to comprehension, a question mark or exclamation point is acceptable, as in the following:
- We verified her sales statistics (that was easy!) but not her claim to have represented the President (how gullible did she think we were?).
You know that you use parentheses to explain, as in BPO (Broker Price Opinion). You can also use parentheses for translations of words in foreign languages (or perhaps translations of "text-ese").
What if you have a list of such things, such as your designations? Put the commas after the parentheses.
When using parentheses inside a sentence, be sure that your verb agrees with the subject that is outside the parentheses.
Disagreement between subject and verb in this case is an error we see quite often simply because what "sounds right" is actually incorrect.
Look at the following two sentences. Do you see why the second one is incorrect?
- Correct: Mary (and her assistant) arrived at noon.
- Incorrect: Mary (and her assistant) were expected to arrive by 10:00 a.m.
The second sentence sounds right, and had the parentheses been left out, it would have been correct. "Mary and her assistant" calls for the plural verb "were." However, "Mary" calls for the singular verb "was."
And... With the parentheses in place, the noun is singular: Mary. Therefore, it should have read "Mary (and her assistant) was expected to arrive by 10:00 a.m."
That's a truly awful sounding sentence. I would opt to leave the parentheses out and go with "were." Or perhaps leave the assistant out and go with "was."
To self-check, read the sentence without the parenthetical content. Is it right or wrong? "Mary were expected…" would obviously be wrong.
Grammar graphic courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net