ACT English Practice: Parentheses and Dashes

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Parentheses close off non-essential information in a sentence and dashes connect thoughts or close off non-essential information. Review parentheses and dashes and practice ACT English examples. Updated: 10/04/2021

Review

Parentheses and dashes can be used for similar purposes, but they're not the same.

  • Parentheses are used to mark off non-essential information within a sentence.
  • Dashes are used to mark off non-essential information, or to loosely connect two thoughts.

For example, here's a sample sentence:

The teacher took three students (Jeff, Dennis, and Sue) to see the school nurse.

You can see how the parentheses are setting off information that isn't crucial to understanding the sentence. You could take this out, and the sentence would still make sense:

The teacher took three students to see the school nurse.

If parentheses aren't your style, you could set off that non-essential information with dashes:

The teacher took three students - Jeff, Dennis, and Sue - to see the school nurse.

Either way is equally correct, but you can't mix and match. Whatever you use to introduce the non-essential information, you have to use that same mark at the end of the non-essential part.

As well as using a pair of dashes like a pair of parentheses, you can also use a single dash to loosely connect two thoughts:

The teacher took three students (Jeff, Dennis, and Sue) to see the school nurse - she was afraid they might be coming down with the flu.

Got that? Then let's get on our way with some practice problems.

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Coming up next: Using Hyphens, Brackets, Ellipses & Quotation Marks

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

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Question 1

Even if you could swim the Moat of Eternity - and that in itself is a major obstacle, you'd still have to fight through the Dragons of Fire and the Labyrinth of Doom before you could rescue the princess.

(A) (as it is now)

(B) a major obstacle; you'd

(C) a major obstacle - you'd

(D) a major obstacle: you'd

Can you spot the problem here? You can see how there's a piece of extra information in this sentence: if you took out 'and that in itself is a major obstacle,' the sentence would still make sense. That means we're going to set this information off somehow from the rest of the sentence. The dash before 'and' looks very promising, since it's completely legitimate to set off a piece of non-essential information with a pair of dashes but then the second dash never comes! Instead, we're left with nothing but a comma.

This is bad: remember that you can't mix and match your punctuation marks like that. So we'll need to choose the answer that gives us the same punctuation mark on both sides of the parenthetical. In this case, that's (C). Now we have an extra piece of information, set off by dashes exactly as it should be (although unfortunately, it doesn't look like it'll help the poor princess very much).

Question 2

Ready for another question? How about this one?

Tabitha was always afraid of going to the vet, she had been traumatized by a bad Rabies shot as a kitten, so I gave her a favorite treat to calm her down.

Which of the following would NOT be an acceptable replacement for the underlined portion of the sentence?

(A) the vet - she had been traumatized by a bad Rabies shot as a kitten - so

(B) the vet (she had been traumatized by a bad Rabies shot as a kitten) so

(C) the vet, because she had been traumatized by a bad Rabies shot as a kitten, so

(D) the vet, she had been traumatized by a bad Rabies shot as a kitten; so

Here, we're mixing things up: instead of finding the one that's right, we're looking for the one that's wrong. You can see that in all these answer choices, 'she had been traumatized by a bad Rabies shot as a kitten' is being set off from the rest of the sentence in various ways. This is just fine, since the sentence would still make sense without it. You could just say 'Tabitha was always afraid of going to the vet, so I gave her a favorite treat to calm her down.'

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