Wednesday, May 20, 2009

WNW: (Parentheses) and [Brackets]

A little while ago, Heatherlyn asked two questions about parentheses.

1) How do you handle punctuation with parentheses, particularly with question marks?

The vast majority of the time, the punctuation will go outside the parentheses:

Jen accidentally dropped her cell phone into the toilet (no big loss; she hated her phone anyway).

The comment inside the parentheses is just that: an aside. It's not a sentence in and of itself but part of the larger one. Because of that, you end the big sentence with a period on the outside of the closing parenthesis.

With commas, put them on the outside. There might be a situation where inside is correct, but I can't think of one. 

As for question marks inside or outside the parentheses, the answer to that is: it depends.

Ask yourself: Is the inserted (parenthetical) thought a question itself, or is the full sentence the question? That'll tell you where the question mark belongs.

A question mark goes INSIDE if the parenthetical is a question:
Jen accidentally dropped her cell phone into the toilet (didn't she hate that phone anyway?).

If the entire sentence is the question, the question mark goes OUTSIDE:
Didn't Jen say she dropped her cell phone (which she hated anyway)?

2) Can you do parentheses within parentheses?
Sort of, yes. You can definitely have a parenthetical thought inside another one. 

But . . . when you do that, it's similar to when you're doing a quote within a quote: you use a different punctuation mark for the second set.

You start with regular parentheses, and then for the second set, use brackets. Be sure to close the brackets before you close the parentheses:

Jen accidentally dropped her cell phone into the toilet (no big loss [she hated the color anyway], but the phone was a gift).

Hope that helps!

Note for picky readers: Yes, I know that there's a misplaced modifier in that last example. I'm too lazy to fix it.

Bragging rights to readers who know what I'm talking about and can identify it!


Lara Neves said...

Thank you. I always knew that parenthetical remarks inside parenthetical remarks must require something besides parentheses, but I wasn't sure what. And, given my love for all things parenthetical, this is great info for me! :)

Kristina P. said...

I figured it was the brackets inside the parentheses, but wasn't sure. I actually made this mistake in my last post, and put parentheses inside parentheses.

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy for this post! I've had a sad lack of word-nerdiness!

Erin said...

I actually knew all of these rules, but I think brackets are so ugly that I use {these} inside of parentheses anyway.

Once upon a time I knew what a misplaced modifier was. Now it just seems that I have misplaced that information. Please tell me before I explode!

Dedee said...

I'm guessing on the mis-placed modifier (since your book hasn't showed up in my mailbox yet). My guess it's the contextual use of the word color.

I'll be so excited if I'm right. Now I'm headed over to writing on the wall to see if there's a post on it.

Heatherlyn said...

Um, you can't tell if she is describing the color of the toilet or of the cell phone. I guess it could be either or. But it wouldn't make sense to be the toilet in context so if that is the misplaced modifier it's a mild one (if there can be such a thing?).

Thanks. I needed this post!

Melanie Jacobson said...

My first thought was "anyway" isn't a color. I'll pull out my Strunke's when I'm not exhausted to see if I'm right.

Carolyn V. said...

I love parentheses (you can always sneak in a few fun words with them).

Jo said...

I love asides (I probably use them too much) and I can't stop myself from using them! Thanks for the help in using them correctly.

Cluttered Brain said...

I have a couple of questions for you. When did this fascination with grammar and words begin? Does it interfere much when you write something?
Just curious.
And aren't you an editor as well? How does that work when you are trying your writing hat on? Does your editing hat ever get in the way?
I went to the LDS Storymaker's Conference, took your class and LOVED every minute of it!
When I have some money again, I will defintely be purchasing that book of yours!!!!


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