Using Commas and Periods with Parentheses

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  • Nancy Tuten

    28 August 2019

    Using Commas and Periods with Parentheses

    This site addresses a number of punctuation issues, including punctuating with quotation marks, using the semicolon and colon, and deciding when to use the Oxford comma.  Here we are focusing specifically on using commas and periods (and other punctuation) with expressions enclosed in parentheses.

    Let’s Start with a Quiz

    Which of these sentences appropriately use commas and periods with parentheses?

    1. The convention will be held at the Hilton (Riverside, not Downtown).
    2. Although the director had just hired two new employees (Johnson and Carlisle,) she decided to attend the job fair to circulate information about the company.
    3. The survey clearly indicates a preference among our employees for flexible holiday options, (see appendix for survey data) but a new policy has not yet been put into effect.
    4. The survey clearly indicates a preference among our employees for flexible holiday options. (See appendix for survey data.)
    5. The survey clearly indicates a preference among our employees for flexible holiday options (survey data in appendix.)

    If you thought sentences 1 and 4 are correctly punctuated and the others are not, you can probably stop reading now. If not, read on.

    When a Sentence Includes Parentheses, Commas and Periods Belong with Their Clauses

    In sentence 2, we need a comma after the introductory clause “Although the director had just hired two new employees (Johnson and Carlisle),” but since that clause ends with a parenthetical expression, the comma should come outside the closing parenthesis rather than inside:

    Although the director had just hired two new employees (Johnson and Carlisle), she decided to attend the job fair to circulate information about the company.

    Sentence 3 needs a comma between the two independent clauses joined by the coordinating conjunction “but.” Because the parenthetical information happens to come at that juncture in the sentence, however, the comma should go after the closing parenthesis:

    The survey clearly indicates a preference among our employees for flexible holiday options (see appendix for survey data), but a new policy has not yet been put into effect.

    When the Expression in Parentheses Is a Complete Sentence, Handle Commas and Periods Differently

    If the parenthetical expression is a complete sentence, then how we punctuate depends upon where it falls in relation to the larger sentence.

    In most cases (see the two exceptions below), it is incorrect to put a mark of punctuation directly before the opening parenthesis within a sentence. And even though the parenthetical element in number 3 is a complete sentence, we do not use a capital letter at the beginning or a period at the end because the element is placed within another complete sentence.

    When Parentheses are Static Enclosers, Handle Commas and Periods Differently

    When we talk about how to use commas and periods with parentheses, we have to first ask whether our parentheses are static.

    Punctuation can immediately precede parentheses when they function as static enclosers, such as those that are used with the letters or numbers of the items in a list:

    Leave only one line of space (1) between the address and the greeting, (2) between the greeting and the body of the letter, and (3) between the body and the closing.

    If parentheses are used around an area code, they are also static (though today most writers omit parentheses around area codes).

    Inquiries regarding the nondiscrimination policies should be made to the director of the Office of Human Resources, 1895 South Street, South Orange, NJ 07079, (973) 275-1975.

    Parentheses at the End of a Sentence

    Notice that in sentence 4 above, when the parenthetical element concludes the sentence and is itself a complete sentence, we conclude the main sentence with a period and treat the sentence in the parentheses as we would any sentence: that is, we begin it with a capital letter and end it with the appropriate punctuation mark placed inside the closing parenthesis.

    If, however, the parenthetical element is not a complete sentence but is placed after the main sentence, as in number 5 above, then we have no choice but to punctuate after the closing parenthesis:

    The survey clearly indicates a preference among our employees for flexible holiday options (survey data in an appendix).

    TEST YOURSELF

    1. The employee’s Social Security number, (or if this is unavailable, the ID number used in the company’s database) must be entered for each name on the official listing.
    2. The chair of the board has made a number of recommendations (report to be published within the next week.)
    3. The chair of the board has made a number of recommendations (the report will be published within the next week.)
    4. According to an article in a local newspaper (not the one owned by Knight Ridder), one-third of this state’s colleges and universities exceeded their performance-funding measures this year.
    5. The committee has been meeting every day for the past three weeks (excluding weekends, of course,) but we still have not been able to resolve the problem.

    ANSWERS

    1. The employee’s Social Security number (or if this is unavailable, the ID number used in the company’s database) must be entered for each name on the official listing. [We need no comma BEFORE the opening parenthesis.]
    2. The chair of the board has made a number of recommendations (report to be published within the next week). [The period goes OUTSIDE the closing parenthesis, at the end of the main sentence.]
    3. The chair of the board has made a number of recommendations. (The report will be published within the next week.) [Here we have two sentences, one inside the parenthetical expression and one before it.]
    4. CORRECT
    5. The committee has been meeting every day for the past three weeks (excluding weekends, of course), but we still have not been able to resolve the problem. [The comma goes OUTSIDE the closing parenthesis AFTER the first independent clause because two independent clauses are joined by the coordinating conjunction “but.”]

    Copyright 2001 Get It Write. Revised 2019.

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