Don’t Be Intimidated!
(For Older posts, please see THE ARCHIVES page)
Current Post: The Period & the Parenthesis
To Judge from confused constructions to be found in most writings today, the question of where to place the period (aka “full stop”) seems to baffle many writers. You see the period inside the parentheses sometimes and outside it in other cases. Which of the two positions is correct? Well, it depends. Take for example these two sentences:
(1) “The period should be outside the parentheses (unless the passage within the parentheses is itself a full sentence).”
(2) “The period may be inside or outside the parentheses. (It depends on whether the passage in parentheses is itself a full sentence or not.)”
Which is correct?
ANSWER: Both are correct. It is not a matter of a mechanical formula to memorize. The correct punctuation follows a simple rule: If a sentence begins inside a pair of parentheses, then it has to end inside that pair as well, like the italicized sentence in (2) above; but if it begins outside the parentheses as in (1) above it should also end outside the parentheses, that is to say, just before the closing parenthesis. Every sentence, of course, begins with a capital letter and must end with a period. And, by the way, in most cases a statement is not a proper sentence unless it contains or implies a verb. (Common exceptions are greetings like ‘Hello,’ a brief assertion like ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ etc.)
A useful way to view the role of parentheses is that, if you lift the pair along with everything between them and throw the lot away, the passage retains its integrity with no need of further tweaking.
PERSONAL NOTE: I fought this battle (and a few others) with editors in the course of publishing my professional (scientific) writings and a couple of books. Editors are especially patronizing when your name suggests to them you are a non-native speaker of English! But even the most buttery American accent or the most sharply clipped British accent does not endow someone automatically with good knowledge of the rules of sentence structure, grammar, syntax, etc.
Consider this fact: Like Winston Churchill, Jawaharlal Nehru (India’s first Prime Minister) was accounted one of the best handlers of English. His anguished broadcast on the sad occasion of ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi’s assassination is stupendous, quite on par with Mark Anthony’s eulogy at Julius Caesar’s funeral —as fictionalized by Shakespeare. If you are curious, check it out on You Tube: “Jawaharlal on Gandhi’s Death.” Note that Nehru was not a “native” speaker of English! In fact, most non-native speakers learn English not casually from their parents and playmates but formally from non-native teachers, who make up for “wrong” accent with good emphasis on the technicalities of written English. So, don’t let anyone corrupt your English. They may mean well, but not all of them are knowledgeable!
Another kind of a growing but insidious “authority” is the Text Editor that is now proliferating in all kinds of composition software used in computer programs. I found that the one used in MS Word is often wrong, and some of its suggestions are atrocious! (One of the more meaningless suggestions it makes is “Fragmentary: consider revising.” That often tells me the machine has no clue what I ‘m trying to say!) Just bear in mind that a text editor is no better-informed than the person who wrote it. If in doubt, consult a good dictionary.
Do Not Accept “Authority” Blindly. Like the spunky 6th-grade Spelling Bee contestant who questioned US Vice-President Dan Quayle’s spelling of “potatoe,” you should question everything, because nobody is perfect! Don’t be intimidated!
In my high school days each of us had a favorite motto. (And how we loved to craft mottoes in those days of brash youth!) My own favorite was “Quantum Potes, Tantum Aude!” It is the first line in the 2nd stanza of the Corpus Christi song composed by St. Thomas of Aquinas. (Corpus Christi means “Body of Christ.”) That line means, roughly, “Whatever you can (do), dare (to do it)!” It is a ringing exhortation to each of us to aim high and not be intimidated or daunted. My personal interpretation of it was “Whenever you can, dare!”
The stanza: “Quantum potes tantum aude!/Quia maior omni laude/Nec laudare sufficis.”
The song: Lauda Sion, Salvatorem (“Zion, Praise your Savior!”)
My opinion: Catholic songs were most majestic in their Latin originals!!!