Using parentheses: Where does the punctuation belong?

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Services for Real Estate Pros with Marte Cliff Copywriting

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.grammar text book

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?).

Other uses:

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.

disagreementOne caution:

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

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Ambassador
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Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner
Karen Parsons-Fiddler, Broker 949-510-2395 - Mission Viejo, CA
Orange County & Lake Arrowhead, CA (949)510-2395

That's interesting that the subject does not change when you add an extra subject in parentheses. I learn something every time you post these. Thanks.

Sep 12, 2015 04:55 AM #1
Ambassador
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Dick Greenberg
New Paradigm Partners LLC - Fort Collins, CO
Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate

Hi Marte - Thanks for the clarification. (It was my comment that started all of this, but as you can see, I still refuse to put punctuation inside the parentheses). :)

Sep 12, 2015 04:59 AM #2
Rainmaker
286,539
Shirley Coomer
Keller Williams Realty Sonoran Living - Phoenix, AZ
Realtor, Keller Williams Realty, Phoenix Az

Great clarification. Thanks

Sep 12, 2015 05:05 AM #3
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Belinda Spillman
Aspen Lane Real Estate Colorful Colorado - Aurora, CO
Colorado Living!

Another great grammar tip.  It's funny how so many have a hard time with this (and so many other things).  

Sep 12, 2015 05:06 AM #4
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Belinda Spillman
Aspen Lane Real Estate Colorful Colorado - Aurora, CO
Colorado Living!

Oh and I'm not surprised to see that Dick Greenberg is forever a rebel!

Sep 12, 2015 05:06 AM #5
Rainmaker
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Carol Williams
Although I'm retired, I love sharing my knowledge and learning from other real estate industry professionals. - Wenatchee, WA
Retired Agent / Broker / Property Manager

Nice post,  Marte Cliff .  I'm curious, though.  Why would you even use parentheses for a complete sentence?    

Sep 12, 2015 05:20 AM #6
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner That part was a question I've had many times. I'm glad that I took the time to get it clarified.

Dick Greenberg You are a true rebel!

Shirley Coomer You're welcome!

Sep 12, 2015 05:25 AM #7
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Belinda Spillman I expect it's because our language is so full of twists and turns. 

Carol Williams Most of the time I wouldn't. However, I suppose it would be appropriate if the sentence in parentheses was a sort of "aside."

Sep 12, 2015 05:27 AM #8
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Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner
Karen Parsons-Fiddler, Broker 949-510-2395 - Mission Viejo, CA
Orange County & Lake Arrowhead, CA (949)510-2395

I probably would have used commas, which might be wrong also. :/

Sep 12, 2015 06:38 AM #9
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Tammy Lankford,
Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668 - Eatonton, GA
Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville

I think I'll continue to rebel on this one. (or will I?)

Sep 12, 2015 06:44 AM #10
Rainmaker
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Stefan Winter
Real Estate in IL & NV | Owner of Real Estate Web Tech | Daily Vlogger - Las Vegas, NV
Owner - Winter Group & Real Estate Web Tech

Thanks for sharing, English being my second language I always tend to learn something new reading about it in a blog. Have a great weekend!

Sep 12, 2015 07:24 AM #11
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner In most cases I would use commas, too. There are a few places where the parentheses fit better. 

Tammy Lankford Sure you will!

Stefan Winter I expect English is easier to digest when you get it in small bites, as from a blog. 

Sep 12, 2015 08:20 AM #12
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Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408 - Daytona Beach, FL
Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices

Marte - I learned 2 things here. Did not know these things before, so thanks

Sep 12, 2015 09:25 AM #13
Rainmaker
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Kat Palmiotti
Grand Lux Realty, Monroe NY, 914-419-0270, kat@thehousekat.com - Monroe, NY
The House Kat

I love reading your grammar posts (and always learn something new!).

Sep 12, 2015 09:45 AM #14
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Thanks Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL and Kat Palmiotti - Comments like yours make writing these worthwhile. 

Sep 12, 2015 09:54 AM #15
Rainmaker
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Troy Erickson AZ Realtor (602) 295-6807
Good Company Real Estate www.ChandlerRealEstate.weebly.com - Chandler, AZ
Your Chandler, Ahwatukee, and East Valley Realtor

Marte - There are times where I do get a little confused where the punctuation goes when using parenthesis. I will bookmark for future reference.

Sep 12, 2015 04:19 PM #16
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer
Troy - my confusion has always been about the singular and plural issue. From now on I'll just re-write that kind of sentence and avoid the issue.
Sep 13, 2015 04:22 AM #17
Rainmaker
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Jenny Durling
L.A. Property Solutions - Los Angeles, CA
For Los Angeles real estate help 213-215-4758

This is one of those questions I always have and have never taken the time to look up! Thanks for the clarification. (I hate to look like a boob to clients!)

Sep 17, 2015 03:06 AM #18
Rainmaker
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Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

You're welcome Jenny Durling. I'm glad I get these questions because it forces me to look up the answers. 

Sep 17, 2015 03:24 AM #19
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