Punctuation Sins Revisited: ,(

16 February 2013

,( ....).  Okay, this is a venial sin, but there's still no reason to commit it. When creating a citation, why would anyone put a comma in front of an open parentheses?

Judging by the number of times that researchers do this in their citations, EE knows there are a bunch of you out there who are right now thinking Hunh? Why not?  Now that we have brought it up, we suspect some of you are also thinking, Here we go again.  Another of those dumb and stupid rules that make sensible folk roll their eyes at the mention of citations.

There really is a method to the madness. to borrow an old cliché. Reference-note citations, which we write “sentence style,” tend to follow the same basic punctuation principles taught in third grade.  Way back then, we learned two things:

  • Comma: Use this mark to set off or separate words and phrases.
  • Parentheses: Use these to add additional info about what just came before (stuff that would otherwise interrupt the flow of things, which is why we speak of "parenthetical information").

How does this relate to a citation?  Simple: When we use parentheses, we are saying: "This goes with what was just said." But if we put a comma before the parentheses, then we are splitting apart what we are supposed to be linking. We're now sending mixed messages.

So, given all this, why are we putting a comma after the parentheses in the example below?

Constance Hale, SIN AND SYNTAX (New York: Broadway Books, 1999), 99.


For the record, EE covers punctuation matters on pp. 71-90, which means very little of its 885 pages dwell on this kind of nitpicking. If you want total immersion, you can bury yourself in that wonderful tome called Chicago Manual of Style.