Parentheses: Definition & Usage

Instructor: Vivian Taylor
Parentheses are a commonly misunderstood type of punctuation mark. This lesson defines the punctuation mark and gauges your understanding with a quiz.

Parentheses: Definition

Even if you can't think of what parentheses are right now, you've probably seen them many times in your daily reading. Parentheses (the singular form is parenthesis) are a type of punctuation mark used to separate a detail from the main point of our writing. We use parentheses to keep the information contained within them from interrupting the flow of the text. So, information found in parentheses should be information that does not need to be emphasized in the sentence or information that is important but would impede the flow of your text.

How to Use Parentheses

Information within parentheses should be important to the main point of the sentence but should not be immediately relevant. One way to tell if we have used parentheses correctly is to cover up the parentheses and the information contained within them, then read the sentence without it. The sentence should be equally effective without the parenthetical information.


If parenthetical information is contained within a sentence, we don't need to capitalize or punctuate information within the parentheses as though it were a separate sentence. If the parenthetical information does appear as an entirely separate sentence, then we do need to capitalize and punctuate it just like we would any other sentence. Note that, in cases where parentheses within a sentence would benefit from a question mark, an exclamation mark or other punctuation, it is acceptable to include such punctuation.

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