If there’s anything worse than spelling, it should be the punctuation system.
And, among all the punctuation marks, the comma seems to be the most notorious offender other than the semicolon and the colon.
To make matters even worse in our discussion today, let’s mix the comma rules with another set of perplexing punctuation marks, the parentheses.
So, buckle up as we try to narrow these peculiarities down in light of the English language.
Does the comma go before or after a parenthesis?
The comma may come after a parenthesis (also called round brackets), but a comma should never appear before the opening bracket nor the closing parenthetical bracket. If you were able to notice how the previous sentence was constructed, which is a compound type, then that means that you’ve already understood one of the three conditions that meet the post-comma placement. The same post-comma placement rule applies when the parenthetical remark is either the last part of an introductory expression or a reversed-order complex sentence, with the latter meaning the dependent clause comes before the independent clause.
The necessary comma outside parenthetical marks
In writing, punctuation marks serve as textual devices that signal readers where to stop and start so that they can fully understand the meaning intended by the author.
Therefore, when we see punctuation marks such as commas and parentheses, it means that they have been intentionally placed by the writer for readability reasons.
In particular, the question of whether the comma should be placed inside or outside the parentheses seems to be causing the confusion to most people.
So, to pre-empt these writing mishaps, let’s start by looking at the conditions prompting the necessary comma placement outside the parentheses.
When we talk about commas outside parentheses, bear in mind that the comma is found after the closing bracket and not before the opening one.
When the parenthetical remark is part of the sentence’s introductory expression
Introductory elements are set off with commas from main clauses in regular sentence structures.
Using an introductory phrase or fragment enables the writer to provide an initial context that creates a preconditioning effect to the reader.
The same principle is applied when we need to insert a parenthetical remark that is a part of the introductory expression.
Take note that the comma is placed outside the closing parenthesis, which means right after it, and not inside.
The meaning of the parenthetical thought is part of the introductory phrase “put simply,” which then creates a rhetorical effect to the main idea.
When the parenthetical remark precedes the second independent clause in a compound sentence structure
The second condition involves compound sentences, which are made up of at least two independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction.
Note that the comma is only necessary if the conjunction tethers two independent clauses, which means that each can stand as separate entities in a sentence.
The next example will illustrate how a parenthetical remark can become a part of the initial independent clause.
In the same vein, we must not place the comma after the last word of the parenthetical remark inside the parentheses, which also means before the closing bracket.
When the parenthetical remark precedes the latter independent clause in a reversed complex sentence structure
Lastly, a comma after the closing bracket may also be found in a complex sentence structure.
But, we can do this particularly in a complex sentence wherein the dependent clause comes before the independent clause.
When we say that the dependent clause comes in front or precedes the independent clause, it means that the sentence starts with a subordinating conjunction.
The most common subordinating conjunctions include unless, after, before, rather than, whether, and because.
To know the distinction between complex and compound sentences, we only have to look at the meaning of one of the clauses, which should not be able to stand alone without the presence of the other clause.
Note that we have to omit the comma when structuring the sentence in its regular form, which means the independent comes before the dependent clause.
The period should also come after the closing parenthesis and not before it.
He went straight to the audition and nailed it after religiously practicing his lines (from dusk ‘til dawn).
Hence, the comma should always come after the closing parenthesis if the sentence meets all the conditions stated in this section.
In sum, we can conclude that knowing the basic characteristics of sentence structures is a precursory skill to the comma decision.
The incorrect comma outside parenthetical marks
To fully understand the patterns in which commas operate, here are also the circumstances that would make the external comma incorrect.
When the parenthetical remark is found within a simple sentence structure
A simple sentence is an independent clause that does not contain any other ideas that depend on it in order to be understood.
A parenthetical remark may also come midway in a simple sentence, but no comma should be found after the closing parenthetical mark or bracket anymore.
That is, we are only inserting the parenthetical remark to accessorize the simple sentence, which can still function perfectly even without the parenthesis.
Here’s an example of a simple sentence structure with an interruptive parenthesis after the subject.
To confirm whether the comma is really necessary, we can remove the parenthetical remark to see what remains.
The sentence does not contain introductory expressions nor conjunctions, therefore, no comma should be placed after the closing parenthesis.
When the parenthetical remark is found before a dependent clause in a regular complex sentence structure
As explained several sentences ago, a complex sentence can be structured in two ways, which means either the dependent or independent clause may come in front.
When the dependent clause precedes the independent clause, this is what we can refer to as an inverted complex sentence that needs to be segregated with a comma.
But, when the independent clause comes first, the sentence is structured in its ordinary or regular form.
Should the parenthetical remark come at the end of a frontal independent clause, a comma should not be inserted after the closing parenthesis.
Here’s another example to illustrate the explanation.
This guideline is true except for some conjunctions that may otherwise function similar to “but,” such as “whereas,” “while,” and “although.”
Another important thing to remember about simple sentences is that they could also have more than one subject conjoined by “and.”
This sentence format needs to use the base form of the verb when it is constructed in the simple present tense.
However, if we want to parenthesize “and her mom,” we have to adjust the verb form to the rule adhering to a singular subject.
This is because the parenthetical remark is treated as a syntactically independent element from the rest of the sentence.
Commas inside parenthetical marks
This means that we can include a serial list within a parenthesis.
Or, even write a complete sentence within the brackets without hurting grammaticality.
All we have to remember is to never misplace the comma after the opening bracket…
Nor tactlessly place it before the closing bracket.
This is mainly because, doing so defeats the purpose of the round brackets encapsulating the parenthetical thought, which may also be replaced with commas in writing.
Frequently Asked Questions about Commas in relation with Parenthesis
Should the period come inside or outside the closing parenthesis?
If the parenthetical remark is found at the end of the sentence, the period should come after the closing bracket rather than before it (which also means inside the parentheses).
Should the comma come before or after the closing quotation mark?
If the quoted speech is followed by another sentence element, the convention is to place the comma before the closing quotation mark as in: “They don’t seem to care anymore,” David said.
What is an example sentence containing a parenthesis?
Here’s an example sentence containing an interruptive parenthetical remark: Thelma (who was only being assumptive) caught Helen’s lie.
We can think of punctuation-less texts as cluttered office desks that should benefit from some equipment to keep things in place.
These tools include pen holders, drawers, file organizers, etc., which would prevent a colleague from bad-mouthing the desk owner after not being able to find an eraser when he or she desperately needs one.
Hence, punctuation marks serve their purpose by decluttering a convoluted text, not to mention adding prosody or rhythm to it.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.