In the following sentence I'd like to convey that "I don't know what space an item currently takes up or what space it will take up at some undefined future time". I contracted the sentence using parentheses* to read:

I don't know what space it (will) take up.

My memory of primary school tells me that a sentence should still make sense if the bracketed section was removed, meaning I would have to conjugate "take" as if it were present tense. When I read this, however, it sounds wrong.

I don't know what space it (will) takes up.

Should I always favour the way the complete sentence reads, in this case, conjugating for the future tense?

*brackets [BrE] but my programmer mind is often tuned to AmE alternatives.

  • If it causes you this much thought it will do the same for your readers: somebody's going to be annoyed whatever you do. The answer then, is just write what you mean and drop the cute parentheses. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 26 '13 at 14:27
  • Cheat. ...what space it can or will take up, what space it may take up,how much space we need. – Tim Lymington Sep 26 '13 at 14:55
  • I think most people would write For desert, we had a (very fattening!) ice-cream sundae. The 'whatever is left on omitting the parenthetical must still be totally acceptable' rule is surely tweakable where no confusion will occur, in line with the spirit of Orwell's Sixth Rule. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 26 '13 at 15:07
  • Having undergone investigation into Orwell's Rules, an extra point in my books has been gained. (I couldn't find a way to get rule 5 into that sentence!) – James Webster Sep 26 '13 at 15:16

I think the better way to convey the sense and maintain the correct verb form is

I don't know what space it takes (will take) up.

You could also add an or to help the flow

I don't know what space it takes (or will take) up.

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  • I like this. It allows for proper verb form yet allows for sentence contraction. =] – James Webster Sep 26 '13 at 14:52

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