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Parentheses and Ellipses

Posted: Sat Jul 30, 2016 7:18 am
by glorybee
Since last week’s lesson on one (of many) comma rule wasn’t too stressful, I’m going to tackle punctuation again, this time concentrating on two lesser-used punctuation marks. Wouldn’t want them to feel neglected, after all.

A few caveats:

1. There are exceptions to almost every grammar rule, and cases where you’ll want to break them intentionally for literary effect. You have my permission to do so.
2. This lesson is by no means comprehensive.

Here we go, then!


Parenthesis are used to set aside a word or a phrase (like this) that’s related to the sentence, but isn’t absolutely essential for it to be a complete and meaningful sentence. They’re a bit gentler than em dashes—the ultimate in sentence interrupters—and they’re more common in nonfiction than in fiction.

I don’t recommend that you use parentheses often. They have their uses, but in general, if the information within parentheses is necessary, then it might just deserve to be out there front and center, instead of shyly tucked away.

Punctuation with parentheses can be tricky.

If the material within the parentheses is part of a larger sentence, put the end punctuation outside the parentheses.

I love all pies (except mincemeat).
I love all pies (but lemon meringue is my favorite).

Notice that in the second sentence above, the parenthetical material is a complete sentence, but it neither begins with a capital letter nor ends with a period.

If the parenthetical material is a stand-alone sentence, put the punctuation inside the parentheses.

I love all pies. (However, I’m not good at baking them.)


Ellipses have a few common uses, and one frequent use that’s not always the best choice.

1. They’re used in nonfiction to indicate omitted material within a quote.

“Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it … Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.” ~William Faulkner

This kind of ellipsis should be typed [space dot dot dot space]

2. They’re used (usually in fiction) to indicate a person’s speech trailing off or being interrupted.

Jan hesitated at the pie buffet. “I just don’t know…”

This kind of ellipsis can be typed [word dot dot dot end quote] without spaces.

I frequently see people use four or five or even more dots as an ellipsis. It should always be three, unless at the end of a sentence. Then you have three dots for the ellipsis, and the period at the end of the sentence.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I too have a dream ….

3. Some people use ellipses to indicate a pause in the flow of a sentence. This isn’t necessarily wrong—but in my opinion, there are usually more appropriate punctuation marks that can do that job.

I wanted that pie … but I also wanted cake.

This is definitely a matter of personal preference. I’d use a comma there, or perhaps an em dash. I find that people who are fond of using ellipses this way use them quite frequently, and it becomes distracting, visually, on the page.

By the way, both of these terms have unusual singular and plural forms (as you may have gathered. A parenthesis is a pair of those little marks. This word is singular, even though it's two marks. Parentheses indicates more than one pair of marks. Also, the word paren is sometimes used. It means the same thing as parenthesis.

paren ( )
parenthesis ( )
parentheses ( ) ( ) ( )

Similarly, ellipsis indicates one set of three dots. Ellipses indicates more than one set of three dots.

ellipsis ...
ellipses ... ... ...

Do you have any questions about uses of parentheses or ellipses? Any other punctuation questions? Any ideas for future lessons? Leave them as a reply, and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

Re: Parentheses and Ellipses

Posted: Sat Jul 30, 2016 6:11 pm
by Auslea
Thanks for clearing up my confusion. I had heard that parenthesis had to be enclosed with commas as well.

Re: Parentheses and Ellipses

Posted: Sat Jul 30, 2016 7:14 pm
by glorybee
Auslea wrote:Thanks for clearing up my confusion. I had heard that parenthesis had to be enclosed with commas as well.
This might be a UK/ US difference, but I can't think of an instance where you'd use commas around parentheses.

Re: Parentheses and Ellipses

Posted: Mon Aug 01, 2016 9:28 am
by JudySauer
This was very helpful. Thank you.

Re: Parentheses and Ellipses

Posted: Mon Aug 08, 2016 5:58 pm
by CatLin
Very helpful!!! Especially the punctuation & spacing to use with ellipses. I never would have thought to put a space, period after a trailing ellipse.

I'm afraid I'm an over-user of parentheses. I tend to insert a lot of comments inside parenthesis. (Also new information to me - I thought the singular referred to ( or ). ) (Oh, look, I just did it again!) (And again!). :roll:

Re: Parentheses and Ellipses

Posted: Mon Aug 08, 2016 6:37 pm
by CatLin
I just re-read/proofread a reply to a post in our local Homeless FB group, and laughed. I thought I'd share an actual example of how much I love parentheses. (And yes, I posted it as is. :) )

"In the morning (they are closed now) try calling Community Services Authority - (404) 363-0575. (Thanks, Frankie Hopper.)"