Parenthesis Literary Definition: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what parentheses punctuation is? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on parentheses punctuation, including its definition, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What are parentheses?

According to Grammar Monster, we often think of parentheses as a type of punctuation mark, like commas, a question mark, where you might use brackets, a dash, and exclamation point, a colon, exclamation marks, a semicolon, an en dash, an ellipsis, an em dash, a terminal punctuation, and more. However, there is actually a lot more to understanding parenthesis and parentheses. Consult a style guidebook if you are confused. A simple example is:

I am going to London tonight (the winner of the competition gets to go, and I am not a loser)!

Parenthesis is also used to refer to the words inside the parentheses; this fragment can also be offset by commas, dashes, and more. Parenthetical insertions are also a qualifying or explanatory sentence, clause, or word that writers insert into a paragraph or passage, according to Literary Devices. The overuse of parenthesis or parenthetical material can make the surrounding text outside parentheses difficult to read.

This verbal unit comes from the Greek word parentithenai meaning interval or interlude, from Late Latin para, en, and tithenai according to Dictionary. The pronunciation fo parentheses is pəˈrɛnθɪsɪs or pəˈrɛnθ-ˌsiːz. This stylistic device is often used in stanza and verse by narrators as explanatory clauses. Like hyperbole is a provocative understatement, parentheses can add to the actual purpose of a sentence for humorous effect by a poet or author, as a sign of aggregation, for logical expressions, digression, symbolic logic in syntactic construction, and more.

What are examples of parentheses?

Parentheses can be used in many different contexts in the English language. Trying to use a word or grammatical technique in a sentence is one of the best ways to memorize what it is, but you can also try making flashcards or quizzes that test your knowledge. Try using this term of the day in a sentence today! Below are a couple of examples of parentheses that can help get you started incorporating this tool into your everyday use.  Take a look at these parentheses examples from Literary Devices and see how many you can identify the parentheses in!

  •  The Elements of Style (By William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White) “It is now necessary to warn you that your concern for the reader must be pure: you must sympathize with the reader’s plight (most readers are in trouble about half the time) but never seek to know the reader’s wants. Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself…”
  •  Lights Out for the Territory (By Iain Sinclair) ” ‘Black dog’ is the mood of bottomless, suicidal despair suffered, most notoriously, by Winston Churchill (himself a kind of bulldog in nappies, a logo for Empire; growling and dribbling, wheezing smoke, swollen veins fired with brandy).”
  •  One Art (By Elizabeth Bishop) “—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture/I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident/the art of losing’s not too hard to master/though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.”
  •  The Dogwood Tree: A Boyhood (By John Updike) “A little gravel alley, too small to be marked with a street sign but known in the neighborhood as Shilling Alley, wound hazardously around our property and on down, past an untidy sequence of back buildings (chicken houses, barns out of plumb, a gun shop, a small lumber mill, a shack where a blind man lived, and the enchanted grotto of a garage whose cement floors had been waxed to the luster of ebony by oil drippings … silver water so cold it made your front teeth throb) on down to Lancaster Avenue, the main street, where the trolley cars ran.”
  •  The Horse and His Boy (By C. S. Lewis) “[I]n Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.”

What are other literary techniques and devices?

There are many different literary and grammatical techniques and devices that you might see when you are reading prose or poetry. It is important to recognize these terms because they are always used for some purpose. Knowing these devices can help readers understand the author’s deeper meaning and why they are using such a device. Take a look at the below list of grammatical devices from OED and see how many you know! Then try researching ones that are unfamiliar to you. 

  • phrase (phr.)
  •  abstract
  •  mass noun
  •  present participle
  •  filler
  •  modal verb | modal auxiliary verb | modal auxiliary
  •  complementary
  •  indirect passive
  •  antecedent
  •  demonstrative
  •  anaphoric
  •  adverb (adv.)
  •  reflexive
  •  subjunctive
  •  preposition (prep.)
  •  interjection
  •  prepositional object
  •  second person
  •  active
  •  premodify | premodifier
  •  construction
  •  zero
  •  passive infinitive
  •  comparative
  •  number
  •  mood
  •  common noun
  •  intensifier
  •  definite article
  •  plural
  •  pronoun (pron.)
  •  predicative
  •  that-clause
  •  impersonal (impers.)
  •  count noun
  •  prefix
  •  dual
  •  masculine
  •  adjective
  •  superlative
  •  pro-form
  •  verb (v.)
  •  object | direct object | indirect object
  •  subjective
  •  complement
  •  nominal relative | nominal relative clause
  •  non-finite
  •  direct question
  •  noun phrase
  •  main clause
  •  gender
  •  noun (n.)
  •  nominative
  •  passive
  •  morpheme
  •  subordinate clause
  •  base form
  •  causative
  •  sentence adverb |sentence adverbial
  •  objective
  •  element
  •  imperative (imper.)
  •  gerund
  •  perfect
  •  participial adjective
  •  double object
  •  past tense
  •  locative
  •  parenthetical | parenthetically
  •  parasynthetic
  •  phrasal verb
  •  unmarked genitive
  •  pleonasm | pleonastic
  •  head
  •  special use
  •  instrumental
  •  transitive
  •  indicative
  •  optative
  •  prepositional passive
  •  present tense
  •  protasis
  •  non-referential
  •  modify | modifier
  •  indirect speech
  •  possessive
  •  apposition
  •  exclamation mark
  •  agent noun
  •  part of speech
  •  prepositional phrase
  •  stem
  •  third-person
  •  positive
  •  clause
  •  simple
  •  tense
  •  cataphoric
  •  anticipatory
  •  participle | past participle | present participle
  •  intransitive
  •  absolute (absol.)
  •  appositive
  •  periphrasis | periphrastic
  •  accusative
  •  inflection | inflected | inflectional
  •  quasi-
  •  collective noun
  •  conditional
  •  verbal noun
  •  subject
  •  apodosis and protasis
  •  adverbial | adverbially
  •  first person
  •  main verb
  •  feminine
  •  vocative
  •  indirect question
  •  genitive
  •  to-infinitive
  •  compound | compounding
  •  dative
  •  attributive
  •  infinitive
  •  auxiliary verb | auxiliary
  •  cognate object
  •  relative
  •  declarative
  •  neuter
  •  article
  •  case
  •  collocation | collocate
  •  agree | agreement
  •  interrogative
  •  concrete
  •  finite
  •  past participle
  •  progressive
  •  possessive adjective
  •  proper noun | proper name
  •  combining form (comb. form)
  •  postmodify | postmodifier
  •  construed (const., constr.)
  •  singular
  •  determiner
  •  personal pronoun
  •  copular verb | copula
  •  direct object
  •  combination
  •  indefinite
  •  bare infinitive
  •  possessive pronoun
  •  similative
  •  person
  •  ellipsis | elliptical
  •  direct speech
  •  indirect object
  •  conjunction (conj.)

Overall, parenthesis is an intervening occurrence that is used in poetry and prose to add information or as an aside..


  1. Glossary of grammatical terms | OED 
  2. Parenthesis | What Is Parenthesis? | Grammar Monster 
  3. Parenthesis – Examples and Definition of Parenthesis | Literary Devices 
  4. Parenthesis Definition & Meaning | Dictionary