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Thread: Punctuation inside parentheses

  1. #1
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    Punctuation inside parentheses

    Sometimes, when I put a parenthetical remark into something that I am writing, I need to split it up. I am never quite sure how to do it and I end up second-guessing every decision I make in this respect. Sometimes I use a semicolon and sometimes I use an en-dash (opt + hyphen on a Mac, alt + 0150 in Windows).

    Which is better?

    To illustrate:

    He sat down to write his novel (something that never seemed to be finished; it was his life's work), before going to bed.
    He sat down to write his novel (something that never seemed to be finished – it was his life's work), before going to bed.
    Aside from obvious ways to write this without using the parentheses at all (see below), which of those would be correct?

    One could always do away with the parentheses thus:

    He sat down to write his novel, before going to bed. This never seemed to be finished. It was his life's work.
    …but there might be legitimate reasons to keep the parentheses as they are in either of the first two versions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Another Editor View Post
    Aside from obvious ways to write this without using the parentheses at all (see below), which of those would be correct?
    Both examples look fine to me, but I'm unsure what the stylebooks might say about it.

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    I don't recall anything about it in Strunk & White. My gut tells me that they would have said not to use the parentheses at all but like I said, I want to know what to do when this sort of thing is inevitable.

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    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Check Strunk & Whyte. It is covered.

    Main question seems to be why is the phrase at issue needed in parenthesis at all, apart from providing the excuse for the post?

    Quote Originally Posted by Another Editor View Post
    I don't recall anything about it in Strunk & White. My gut tells me that they would have said not to use the parentheses at all but like I said, I want to know what to do when this sort of thing is inevitable.
    Last edited by Bufty; 07-20-2011 at 07:09 PM. Reason: Obvious question
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    No Stranger To Rejection allz28's Avatar
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    I don't have my copy of Strunk & White with me at the moment, but here's my thoughts.

    (something that never seemed to be finished; it was his life's work) This one includes an incorrect usage of the semi-colon. So that one is definitely wrong.

    and

    (something that never seemed to be finished – it was his life's work)

    The dash would be an em dash. But that still doesn't help the sentence.

    I think neither are correct. Think of this as if they are sentences on their own. Ignore the parenthesis.

    "something that never seemed to be finished" modifies "his novel" from the previous sentence. So it would be attached to that sentence.

    "It was his life's work." stands on its own.

    So, you shouldn't have those two phrases attached to each other in the parenthesis.
    Last edited by allz28; 07-20-2011 at 06:38 PM.

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    I agree with allz28. I don’t think ether example is correct.

    My advice is to make your sentences as clear and simple as possible. I don't think I've ever seen parentheses used in prose that needed to be there. I think parentheses are more of a stylistic choice.

    Before going to bed he sat down to write his novel. It was his life's work, and it never seemed to be finished.

  7. #7
    Resident Curmudgeon ResearchGuy's Avatar
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    My tenth grade English teacher flagged my overuse of parentheses about fifty years ago. I still overuse parentheses and have to make a point of cleaning them out of drafts. (Some inevitably remain.) I recommend avoiding them when you can. I believe that your version without parentheses reads better. Better yet: "He sat down to work on his novel before going to bed. The writing never seemed to be finished. It was his life's work."

    --Ken

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    Quote Originally Posted by allz28 View Post
    (something that never seemed to be finished; it was his life's work) This one includes an incorrect usage of the semi-colon. So that one is definitely wrong.
    Hey, allz28. While I agree that the paretheses seem a little clunky, I don't understand why you see the semi-colon as wrong. Can you give your reasoning?

    I think of the semi-colon as a sort of soft period, and it seems to be used that way in the example.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pegasus View Post
    Hey, allz28. While I agree that the paretheses seem a little clunky, I don't understand why you see the semi-colon as wrong. Can you give your reasoning?

    I think of the semi-colon as a sort of soft period, and it seems to be used that way in the example.

    The semi-colon should be used with two complete sentences. I would question whether or not "something that never seemed to be finished" would be considered a complete sentence. If I'm wrong, I'm sure I'll be corrected.
    Last edited by writingismypassion; 07-21-2011 at 12:05 AM.
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    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Never use an en-dash for anything but numeric ranges--dates, pages, etc.

    Also? Where the hell do you edit?

    The en-dash is editing 101.

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    No Stranger To Rejection allz28's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by writingismypassion View Post
    The semi-colon should be used with two complete sentences. I would question whether or not "something that never seemed to be finished" would be considered a complete sentence. If I'm wrong, I'm sure I'll be corrected.
    Exactly what I was thinking.

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    Quote Originally Posted by writingismypassion View Post
    The semi-colon should be used with two complete sentences. I would question whether or not "something that never seemed to be finished" would be considered a complete sentence. If I'm wrong, I'm sure I'll be corrected.
    Yeah. I tend to drop the subject in many of my sentences, though, so I had no problem seeing it as complete.

    Went to the store. Bought some milk. Tasted sour.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    Main question seems to be why is the phrase at issue needed in parenthesis at all
    That was the best example that I could come up with off the top of my head. Sometimes, parentheses are unavoidable. I try to cut those out as much as possible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    Never use an en-dash for anything but numeric ranges--dates, pages, etc.
    The hyphen is used for such things but there is a much better way: just say "to." "Pages 3 to 55" looks and reads better than "pages 3 - 55" or "pages 3 – 55" or "pp 3-55" ad nauseum.

  15. #15
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    That's a plain stupid comment.

    Quote Originally Posted by Another Editor View Post
    The hyphen is used for such things but there is a much better way: just say "to." "Pages 3 to 55" looks and reads better than "pages 3 - 55" or "pages 3 – 55" or "pp 3-55" ad nauseum.
    Last edited by Bufty; 07-21-2011 at 09:09 PM.
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    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Another Editor View Post
    The hyphen is used for such things but there is a much better way: just say "to." "Pages 3 to 55" looks and reads better than "pages 3 - 55" or "pages 3 – 55" or "pp 3-55" ad nauseum.
    Bullshit.

    Absolute bullshit.

    The hypen is a completely different character, a different punctuation mark, and is not used for numeric ranges.

    The only purpose an en-dash has is in the context of ranges.

    If you are an editor with any kind of expertise at all, you'd have a copy of Chicago Manual of Style, and could check.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chicago Manual of Style
    The principal use of the en dash is to indicating continuing, or inclusive, numbers—dates, time, or reference numbers:
    Followed by examples.

    The only time an en-dash is used in place of a hyphen is in a compound adjective wherein one element of the compound consists of two words or a hyphenated word, as in:

    New York–London flight

    Because it's considered a range.

    The section numbers for the online current Chicago Manual available by subscription agree with those of my ancient 13th ed. printed copy:

    Sections 5.92–5.94.

    I note that the MLA Style Guide, the APA Style Guide and The Oxford Guide To Style essentially agree with Chicago.

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    'Twas but a dream of thee El Jefe MacAllister's Avatar
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    Yeah. Utter nonsense, AE. You don't get to just make stuff up because you think it maybe sorta sounds like something that seems like it will convince people that you know what you're talking about.

    There actually are, yanno, rules about stuff like punctuation marks.

    It's increasingly clear that you don't know anything at all about language, usage, or the bare minimum about the ins and outs of the job you keep pretending to us that you're already doing.

    What on earth do you supposedly edit, Another Editor?

    Because frankly, from I've seen from you here, you're not competent to edit a high school year book.
    Last edited by MacAllister; 03-25-2012 at 11:38 PM.
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    Resident Curmudgeon ResearchGuy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacAllister View Post
    . . . you're not competent to edit a high school year book.
    Seems a bit harsh . . .

    --Ken

  19. #19
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ResearchGuy View Post
    Seems a bit harsh . . .

    --Ken
    Look at the post history.

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  20. #20
    'Twas but a dream of thee El Jefe MacAllister's Avatar
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    Ken, yes. I'm a bit harsh -- but I see AE spreading misinformation all over this board while pretending to be a publishing industry professional, and pretending to expert knowledge...then he comes in here and asks something boneheaded like this, that anyone who can pass basic freshman comp ought to AT LEAST know how to look up.

    Now, certainly this is the internet -- and a LOT of people on the Web are pretending to one degree or another. But I'm not going to let his baldly false and ignorant assertions just go by without pointing out that just because he calls himself an editor, if he doesn't have the skills, the knowledge, or even understand the most basic use of an editor's fundamental tools?

    He's pretender. He's a poseur -- and that can do real and lasting damage to the people who know even less than he does, who might be in danger of taking him at his word.
    Last edited by MacAllister; 07-22-2011 at 08:29 AM.
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