Consider the following sentence:

There are three options (Halifax, Winnipeg and Saskatoon). Of the three, Winnipeg is the best choice because of X, Y and Z.

The sentence is pretty straightforward. My question has to do with style: is it awkward to make reference to something (Winnipeg) that has previously only been referred to in parentheses?

Of course I could rewrite the sentence in any number of ways. My question has to do with whether there is a rule or convention that suggests that a word or phrase needs to be in the "real" (non-parenthetical) text if it is referred to later on in the text.

I have tried to research the question but tend to turn up references to parenthetical referencing.

  • As far as writing style is concerned, referring to a part of a parenthetical is fine. You will have to look for some precedents in literature to convince yourself, not through Google Search. AFAIK there is no rule proscribing such a practice.
    – Kris
    May 3, 2013 at 6:21

1 Answer 1


It is not awkward. What's awkward is the use of the curved brackets (parentheses) when the text contains no actual parenthetical phrase.

A parenthesis is a rhetorical technique. It means you interrupt yourself: you insert text which is outside of the normal grammatical flow.

There is no interruption in the sample. The text could be punctuated differently to more accurately reflect the actual flow of the text and avoid the difficulty you are bringing up:

There are three options: Halifax, Winnipeg and Saskatoon. Of the three, Winnipeg is the best choice because of X, Y and Z.

  • 1
    I agree with your dislike of the brackets and with your solution. Your "there is no interruption", however, I disagree with (obviously a minor point); there is interruption if you use brackets. The point is, you should only use brackets if the elaboration is non-essential, unimportant; however, if you refer to Winnipeg later, this means what you put in brackets was in fact important enough to refer back to, so the brackets were used improperly. May 3, 2013 at 3:06
  • 1
    A parenthetical phrase may be highly important to the text. What makes it a parenthesis is not its relative unimportance; it is that it falls outside of the grammatical flow of the text around it. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parenthesis_%28rhetoric%29
    – MetaEd
    May 3, 2013 at 3:10
  • @MEd: That is true, but generally a parenthesis like the above works like a non-essential or non-defining relative clause. There are many levels on which something can be "important"; sometimes it is desirable to present something as unimportant on a more superficial level while it is in fact important on a deeper level, etc. But you need to have some sort of reason for that; in a mundane case like the OP's, it seems incongruous. May 3, 2013 at 3:40
  • Thank you Meta and @Cerberus. My example might be a weak one but my question applies to any situation in which content that appears only in parentheses is later referred to in the main text. Perhaps your suggestion, Cerberus, is what I'm thinking of -- that text "unimportant" enough (however defined) to appear in parentheses is also "unimportant" enough to appear in the main text.
    – JAM
    May 3, 2013 at 3:43
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    Yes - I'd use brackets with 'There are three towns (Halifax, Winnipeg and Saskatoon) which fulfil locational and other geographical requirements. Of the three, Winnipeg is the best choice because of X, Y and Z.' But MετάEd's alternative where 'Halifax, Winnipeg and Saskatoon' is too central to the proposition of the matrix sentence to be fenced off' ('Importance' has to do with the proposition itself, not how it is written down, so the towns are equally important with or without the use of brackets). May 3, 2013 at 9:42

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