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Which of these punctuation examples is more correct?

  • On December 7, 1941, ("a date which will live in infamy") Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

  • On December 7, 1941 ("a date which will live in infamy"), Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

  • On December 7, 1941, ("a date which will live in infamy"), Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

Edit: A little background on my question may be in order. According to most, if not all, online references I could find, a comma is required after the year when writing a date in the above American style. For example, from Wikipedia: "most style manuals, including The Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook, recommend that the year be treated as a parenthetical, requiring a second comma after it." See also, Chicago Manual of Style Online, the Language Portal of the Canadian Government, and Wikipedia's own style guide.

I couldn't find a reference for how to punctuate serial parentheticals.

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Is this a real double parenthetical or a date followed by a parenthetical? We punctuate dates the same way we punctuate parentheticals, but that doesn't mean we should do it the same way when they're doubled. – Peter Shor Jan 9 '13 at 17:22
This is not a question about nested parentheticals, apparently. If it were, it would be be a dupe of Is it acceptable to nest parentheses. I think the title is just wrong for the actual question. – Robusto Jan 9 '13 at 17:23
@Robusto You are correct, this is not a question about nested parentheses. I like the new title better, so thanks to whomever changed it! – Doug Jan 9 '13 at 21:36
I changed it. That's why it says edited by Robusto. – Robusto Jan 9 '13 at 21:52
@Robusto Gracias. – Doug Jan 9 '13 at 21:55
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Of your three options, I consider the first best, as the second option seems to associate your quote with just the year, and the third option's final comma seems entirely unnecessary, as the parentheses are jarring enough for the reader to not need another comma!

May I ask why you think the parentheses are necessary? The sentence would be better if you simply omit them, and perhaps rephrase:

Japan bombed Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy."
"A date which will live in infamy," Japan bombed Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on "a date which will live in infamy," December 7, 1941.

Also, I did not modify the quoted text, but note the which should be that.

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A good question. The original is an official document and the parentheses are not negotiable. I substituted dummy language to match. – Doug Jan 9 '13 at 23:36
Oh, and FDR said "which." – Doug Jan 10 '13 at 1:14

There's no need for a second comma in On December 7, 1941 Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, so there’s no need for one when you insert the words in brackets. You can write On December 7, 1941 ("a date which will live in infamy") Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

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This is contradicted by all online references I could find (see edited question). – Doug Jan 9 '13 at 22:08
What is 1941 Japan? ^_^ – Charlie Gorichanaz Jan 9 '13 at 23:35
That there's no need for that second comma is strictly a style preference that must be checked with the style manual of the publisher. In all cases of writing informally, however, it doesn't matter how you deign to scrawl & scribble, as long as your reader gets the point. There's little difference between spoken English & informal writing: there are no rules that must be followed. – user21497 Jan 9 '13 at 23:37
:-/ Maybe I should have specified from the outset: With the date alone, the comma is required. My question is, where do I stick the parentheses? – Doug Jan 10 '13 at 1:27

In the original sentence, there are two commas required after "December 7, 1941" (or more accurately, there are two reasons for the single comma). You get one comma because you would write "On December 7, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor". You get another for the date: "December 7, 1941," where the year is set off by commas. Normally, these two commas would be coalesced into one, but the parenthetical statement actually belongs between the two commas, so you need the third option.

If you would write:

On December 7 Japan bombed Pearl Harbor,

(which is acceptable, although I'd include the comma), you don't need the comma after the parenthesis. If you would write

December 7, 1941 was the day that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor,

without the second comma (again acceptable, although I believe most style guides will tell you to include the comma), you don't need the comma before the parenthesis.

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