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Does English allow one to put parentheses around more than one paragraph? Example:

Paragraph 1.

(Paragraph 2.

Paragraph 3.)

Paragraph 4.

(Of course, this is just a simple example. In reality, it looks more clean since the paragraphs are more than one line long, and are not separated by an empty line.)

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What sort of document is this in? To have paragraphs of parenthetical comments in a report might be unusual, but to use brackets like this to omit part of a Biblical reading would be entirely acceptable. –  Andrew Leach May 2 '12 at 10:12
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Of course English allows it. Whether you do it depends on whether you think it will make your writing easier or harder to read. –  Barrie England May 2 '12 at 10:23
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I would think that if a parenthetical statement is so large to merit two whole paragraphs, it should either be deleted as unnecessary, relegated to a footnote, or made a part of the actual text rather than a parenthetical aside. –  zpletan May 2 '12 at 19:02
    
In the case of quote marks, you just repeat the opening quotes at the start of each succeeding para in such cases. I do not know if this applies to parentheses as well. –  Kris May 3 '12 at 19:08
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I have seen this done with a new ( sign at the beginning of each new paragraph, and a ) sign only at the end of the whole parenthesis. –  GEdgar May 4 '12 at 14:34

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

"Does English allow..." is a problematic question, as English has no authoritative body to allow or disallow anything. As an attempt to provide a standard, several bodies issue "style guides", among the most influential of which are The Chicago Manual of Style, The MLA Style Manual, The MLA Handbook, and The AP Stylebook. They each have different histories and target audiences, so different editors and publications choose different ones for their own reasons. So to answer your question with authority you would need to consult the relevant style guide. For most purposes (writing that is neither academic nor journalistic) I use the Chicago Manual of Style.

As a general rule, though, (and according to the Chicago Manual of Style as I understand it) parentheticals should not be as long as a paragraph, and would typically be converted into a footnote instead. In some kinds of publications, they would be margin notes or endnotes.

If you just wanted to be ornery, you would probably follow the rules for including multiple paragraphs inside double-quotes and repeat the left parenthesis at the beginning of each paragraph, like this:

(Paragraph 1.

(Paragraph 2.

(Final paragraph.)

See The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, Section 13.30, for how to quote multiple paragraphs.

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"Use a footnote" was what popped into my head when reading the question. –  user2512 May 7 '12 at 3:26

The answer is "no".

Parenthetical statements are modifiers or subordinate statements of a primary statement at the sentence or paragraph level of a text.

The correct use of parentheses is to enclose words or figures that clarify or are used as an aside, or to set off letters that identify items in a series within a sentence or paragraph.

The use of parenthesis requires the eye to identify the left parenthesis and the right parenthesis at the same time, read the enclosed text, and understand how the parenthetical expression modifies the primary statement. The more text there is between the parentheses the harder the reader must work to understand the complete statement. Use of parentheses above the paragraph level places an unreasonable burden on the reader.

In a non-technical, multi-paragraph text, subordinate or parenthetical paragraphs should follow primary paragraphs. Primary paragraphs following a subordinate paragraph of a preceding primary paragraph should be separated by a vertical space that is larger than the vertical spaced used between paragraphs or by a chapter break.

In technical texts you can use footnotes for subordinate text that is not critical to the immediate understanding of the primary text. If you do not want to use footnotes, you can use numbered headers (1., 2., etc.) for primary paragraphs and higher levels (1.1, 2.1, etc.) to indicate subordinate paragraphs.

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-1 for the suggestion of numbered headers for levels ... subordinate headers aren't at all the same thing as parenthetical comments, and in most cases, I think subordinate headers are really bad style. –  Peter Shor May 4 '12 at 11:59
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The use of subordinate headers is an unavoidable fact of life in technical documentation. A comment that is two paragraphs long is not parenthetical. –  Eli Rosencruft May 4 '12 at 13:14
    
For technical documentation, numbered headers for paragraphs are fine. For more general technical texts (as I thought you suggested in your answer), I still think it's really bad style. –  Peter Shor May 4 '12 at 14:35
    
Combined last two paragraphs for clarification. –  Eli Rosencruft May 4 '12 at 15:39

These URL's describe the use of parentheses but do not specifically state they can be used across paragraphs:

http://www.writingsimplified.com/2009/04/how-and-when-to-use-parentheses.html

http://academics.smcvt.edu/writingctr/Dashes.htm

http://www.iolani.honolulu.hi.us/Keables/KeablesGuide/PartFour/TitlesEndPunctDashesParen.htm#parenx

I think this has never been done for the following reason:

If you have parentheses spanning a paragraph, the reader is going to have to do parentheses matching across line breaks.

Could you instead number your paragraphs with multiple levels of numbering (Paragraph 1, 1.1, 1.2 and 2), or with indents?

The main question I am asking myself is: What is the significance of the parentheses around paragraphs 2 and 3 as relating to paragraph 1? If you can describe why you need parentheses and use multiple level numbering or indentation to draw attention to this, it will be much easier to understand than parentheses spanning paragraphs. It takes enough parsing to validate that the parentheses are balanced within one paragraph, much less across multiple paragraphs.

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Yes -- although it's probably not a good idea. I can't think of a reason why this would ever need to be done.

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A reason why this would ever need to be done? Never (well maybe a personal email to my parents). Agreed, there is no "rule", but it would be bad form to do in a blog, let alone anything more formal. I doubt any editor would let it through either. –  Feral Oink May 4 '12 at 14:23

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