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What is parenthesis?

What is parenthesis and what are brackets?
We explain parenthesis and parentheses (or brackets) and how children are introduced to the different ways to add information to a sentence as part of the primary school curriculum.

What is parenthesis?

Parenthesis is a word, phrase, or clause inserted into a sentence to add extra, subordinate or clarifying information. When a parenthesis is removed, the sentence still makes sense on its own.

What are parentheses?

Brackets ( ) are also known as parentheses (parenthesEs) and usually used to show parenthesIs.

Commas and dashes can also be used to show parenthesis.

How does parenthesis work?

The most common way to show parenthesis is to use brackets within a sentence to add information for detail or clarification. What is key to remember is that the sentence to which the parenthesis is being added should make grammatical sense whether the information in the brackets is there or not. 

For example, ‘George Washington was born in 1732’ makes sense on its own, therefore the brackets have been used correctly. The subordinate, or bracketed, information ‘the first American President’ adds extra detail to the main sentence.

Dashes and commas can also be used in place of brackets to indicate parenthesis; they offer a slightly less formal tone in writing.

Additional punctuation can be used within brackets, however this isn’t usually taught until Year 6. If the information inside the brackets were a full sentence, then a full stop (or suitable alternative) would be required. In the case of a phrase like (oh no!), appropriate punctuation outside the brackets needs to be used as if the bracketed information weren't there.

Brackets are often used in place of commas, so adding commas to bracketed information is redundant and unnecessary. Brackets can even be used within brackets, however this is not taught at primary school.

How is parenthesis taught in primary school?

Before children can add information in parenthesis to their sentences, they need to be familiar with reading that type of sentence. Once they have understood how bracketed information is read aloud slightly differently than the rest of the sentence, identification and writing their own sentences will follow.

Worksheets will often be used the first time children are expected to write brackets, perhaps asking children to add brackets to pre-written sentences. For example:

Children will then progress onto writing their own sentences, usually through the form of shared writing as a class.

When is parenthesis taught in primary school?

Parenthesis is first introduced to children in Year 5 and consolidated further in Year 6. 

To reach age-related levels in their writing, children are expected to be able to use brackets, dashes or commas for parenthesis within their writing across a range of text types by the end of Year 6.

In their KS2 English Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test, children may be asked questions related to the correct use of brackets for parenthesis. For example:

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