30th March 2019
Writing Tips: How to Punctuate Brackets
Brackets (or parentheses) are a useful type of punctuation. However, it can be hard to know where to put other punctuation marks when a sentence contains brackets. So how does this work? Check out our advice on how to punctuate brackets for more information.
Periods: Inside or Outside?
We’re often asked whether to place periods inside or outside closing brackets. But this depends on the situation. As a rule, you should:
- Place periods inside brackets when an entire sentence is parenthetical.
- Place periods outside closing brackets in all other cases.
So when bracketed text is part of a longer sentence, the period goes after the closing bracket:
The cake looks great (and tastes even better). ✓
The cake looks great (and tastes even better.) ✗
And when a whole sentence is parenthetical, the period goes inside the closing bracket:
I ate the whole cake. (And now I am full.) ✓
I ate the whole cake. (And now I am full). ✗
Brackets and Commas
When it comes to comma placement and brackets, there are two main rules:
- You will almost never need a comma before an opening bracket.
- You only need a comma after a closing bracket at the end of a clause.
As such, you only need a comma after a closing bracket if the sentence would contain one anyway. And this means we can check whether a comma is correct by removing the bracketed text.
For example, below we have one correct and one incorrect comma:
We’re going to the zoo tomorrow (Tuesday), which will be nice. ✓
Big cats (e.g., lions and tigers), are predators. ✗
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And if we remove the bracketed text, we can see why the second is wrong:
We’re going to the zoo tomorrow, which will be nice. ✓
Big cats, are predators. ✗
We do not need a comma between “cats” and “are” here. And since this sentence does not need a comma, it doesn’t need one when we add the bracketed text either.
Exclamation Points and Question Marks
Finally, we’ll look at exclamation points and question marks. Like periods, these are forms of terminal punctuation, so they usually indicate the end of a sentence. However, unlike periods, you can use an exclamation point or a question mark within brackets mid-sentence. For instance:
The man (what was his name?) left a note. ✓
Here, we use a question mark to show the bracketed text is a question.
It’s worth noting here that the punctuation inside brackets does not affect the rest of the sentence. And as such, when a sentence ends with bracketed text that includes an exclamation point or a question mark, we still need to add a period after the closing bracket. For example:
I was not invited (and I am furious!). ✓
I was not invited (and I am furious!) ✗
Summary: How to Punctuate Brackets
It can be tricky to know where to put punctuation in a sentence that includes brackets. However, we have a few simple guidelines to follow that will help ensure your written work is error free:
- Always place periods outside closing brackets unless the entire sentence is parenthetical, in which case the period goes inside.
- Only use a comma after a closing bracket at the end of a clause.
- Use question marks and exclamation points inside brackets as required. However, don’t forget to add a period after the closing bracket.
And if you’d like more help with your punctuation, you can always get your work proofread by the experts.
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