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I understand that if you're speaking a phrase in which you would write parentheses, you can say the word parenthetically. But when should you write the word parenthetically?

I came across this sentence, starting off a paragraph in a scientific article:

Parenthetically, we note that subjects in all experimental conditions were unbiased …

This struck me as odd. If they're speaking parenthetically, shouldn't it be in parentheses? On the one hand, from a descriptive point of view, the usage of the word was not ambiguous – I know exactly what the author is trying to connote by using it. But from a prescriptive point of view, would this be considered proper grammar?

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In the paper, if that sentence were enclosed in parentheses, the entire paragraph would need to be there too. Just saying parenthetically is the least awkward option. And possibly it implies a bit of "they make us say this, you know." – rdhs Jan 26 '12 at 16:55
Parenthetically here functions as a sentence adverb. See this answer for more information. – Robusto Jan 26 '12 at 18:36
You would write it here: "Parenthetically". (Sorry, couldn't resist!) – Neil Fein Jan 30 '12 at 6:04
parenthetically - to introduce a sentence or remark which is explanatory – user59538 Dec 12 '13 at 5:00
up vote 18 down vote accepted

The use of parenthetically is not limited to the literal meaning of appearing between brackets. It can, as in your example, mean simply ‘as an aside’.

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Ah, so they were writing metaphorically parenthetically. – Tom Anderson Jan 27 '12 at 20:08
@TomAnderson: Quite so. – Barrie England Jan 27 '12 at 20:13
I think you mean "exactally". – Tom Anderson Jan 27 '12 at 20:18
@TomAnderson, To be fair, that's the original meaning of parenthesis. The ( and ) are called brackets. They're so often used to signify parenthesis to the extent that now people even call them that. – Pacerier May 26 '15 at 9:26

Don't confuse the punctuation marks routinely used to convey an idea with the idea itself, even when the punctuation marks have a same or similar name as the idea. It's quite reasonable to say, "Charles QUESTIONED the speaker's statement" without using a question mark (because I do not actually quote the question). "When I asked my children where they wanted to go for vacation, they EXCLAIMED that they wanted to go to Disney World." Etc.

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Exactly. – Pacerier May 26 '15 at 9:28

In addition to its prescriptive purpose, parenthetically may also be used in a more abstract sense, by definition:

Set off within or as if within parentheses; qualifying or explanatory

It's worth noting that there is a difference between a parenthesis and parentheses, the former being a rhetoric device and the latter being punctuation. (Parentheses usually - but not always - enclose a parenthetical remark.)

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Isn't parentheses just the plural of parenthesis. Since they're usually used in pairs in punctuation, you use the plural word for punctuation (although you would say "you're missing a right parenthesis here"). – Peter Shor Jan 26 '12 at 17:16
@Peter Indeed. Both the punctuation mark and the rhetorical device share the same singular and plural forms, which adds to the confusion. See Pathenthesis (rhetoric) for further details. – HaL Jan 26 '12 at 17:23
@HaL, Your explanation in the answer is bad. Readers would think that there's a difference in spelling between the two concepts, but no, the two concepts are spelled identically. – Pacerier May 26 '15 at 9:29
@Pacerier: Feel free to edit this answer if it can be improved. – HaL Jun 10 '15 at 7:23

It's a good word to use in speech, when you can't show actual parentheses. In the context you give, it's probably just a stylistic choice, if an ill-advised one. Parenthetically, I note that scientific papers are not always models of perfect grammar and word choice.

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Your last sentence eloquently refutes your second sentence. :-) – Zano Jan 28 '12 at 14:33

The word "parenthesis" is a Greek word, as every sophisticated word is... so, parenthesis (παρένθεσις) is exactly this: ( ). This is a parenthesis. When we say parenthetically, we mean that we add an idea to our text which it may seem unnecessary but we judge that it would enforce our point we wish to make.

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I am mainly copying the entry because of the example below. Synonyms might help too



incidentally, by the way, in passing, by way of explanation, by the bye

This brings us, parenthetically, to another question.

Collins Thesaurus of the English Language – Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002 © HarperCollins Publishers 1995, 2002

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It seems to me that the use of the word parenthetically is used as a tangential idea separate from, but related, to the subject of the discourse.

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