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Comma Before Parenthesis or After?

Updated on
January 14, 2021
Grammar

You’ve likely seen writers use parentheses to set apart information from the main sentence. But do you know how to use them correctly? One common issue writers have is how to punctuate parentheses properly, specifically whether to use a comma after parentheses or before.

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Comma Before Parenthesis or After?

You’ll often see commas and parentheses used alongside one another. The question is: Do you place the comma after parentheses or before? Generally speaking, commas should never be placed before parentheses. Consider the examples below, and note the proper comma placement:

After opening the new cookie tin, (and eating several of the cookies) Mary had a hard time replacing the lid.
After opening the new cookie tin (and eating several of the cookies), Mary had a hard time replacing the lid.

Also note that the comma would be necessary even if the parentheses were removed, because it joins a dependent and independent clause:

After opening the new cookie tin, Mary had a hard time replacing the lid.

Commas and Parentheses Aren’t Always Used Together

Commas and parentheses are often used together, but they serve separate purposes within a sentence. Thus, commas should be used with parentheses only if the sentence would require a comma without the parentheses. The example below illustrates this point:

Peter cleaned his room before going out to play basketball.
Peter cleaned his room (grumbling all the while), before going out to play basketball.
Peter cleaned his room (grumbling all the while) before going out to play basketball.

Since the main sentence without the parentheses does not require a comma, it’s not necessary to add a comma when inserting the parentheses.

Using Commas Within Parentheses

When using commas and parentheses, it’s also important to distinguish commas that punctuate the main sentence from commas that punctuate the material within the parentheses. You will see commas properly used within parentheses, but this is only the case if these commas serve the parenthetical information, not the main sentence. See the sample sentences below:

The teacher chose three students (Rachel, Ashley, and Tom) to represent the class at the convention.
When they arrived (finally!), the students were promptly shown to their rooms.
When they arrived (, finally!) the students were promptly shown to their rooms.
When they arrived (finally!,) the students were promptly shown to their rooms.

In the first sentence, the commas within the parentheses are necessary because they separate items in a series, and this series makes up the information within the parentheses. In the second sentence, however, the comma is used to punctuate the main sentence (specifically, to separate the dependent and independent clauses). Therefore, the comma belongs in the main sentence, not within the parentheses.

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