Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Was That Meant Parenthetically? (Part 1 of 3)

The parenthesis has largely disappeared from informal, commercial writing. Remember that parentheses always come in pairs—before and after the punctuated material. They include explanations, digressions, and examples that, although helpful or interesting, aren't essential for the meaning of the sentence.

* The theater tickets (ranging in price from three dollars to twelve) will go on sale Friday.

* Edna is a troublesome guest because she's allergic to all my favorite snacks (like chocolate, popcorn, and potato chips) and complains because I don't like what she prefers to eat.

The dash (composed of two typed hyphens) has become a strong punctuation mark with most commercial writers and has largely replaced the parenthesis.

If you delete the parenthetical expressions, the sentences make sense and still convey the information you want. 

I use parentheses to include information 
that isn't vital for the intended meaning.


  1. So should I use parenthesis or a dash?

  2. Ellen, that's a good question. For most writers, the em dash has replaced parens.

    We used to say that that if you inserted an interruptive element—something that disrupts the flow—you used a dash (as I did above).

    The words after the dash could have been set in parens because they explain by inserting words to clarify, which is what parens do. _As I did above_ could have followed an em dash.

    These days, it's a matter of choice and reflects the writer's personality. I'm a dash-dash person and it speaks of the way my mind flows.
    A slower, more reflective writer might have used parens for the first and a comma for the second, as I did above when I used a comma before which parens do.


What are your thoughts?