This is a follow-up to my previous question.

The answerer mentioned that when parentheses are used for inserting contents in a sentence, the grammar flexibility is assumed to be higher.

If that is true, what sort of flexibility is applied to other punctuation, especially em-dashes? Are parentheses and em-dash considered to be "universal" for this matter?

Another question: is it recommended to assume such flexibility in formal wiring?

  • As far as grammar is concerned, parentheses and dashes (n- or m- depending on style) can serve the function of enclosing a "parenthetical expression," the term parenthetical being functional, it does not mean parentheses alone.
    – Kris
    Nov 2, 2013 at 11:54
  • @Kris:If you mean it isn't used as a noun, AHD disagrees: par·en·thet·i·cal adj. also par·en·thet·ic (-k) 1. Set off within or as if within parentheses; qualifying or explanatory: a parenthetical remark. 2. Using or containing parentheses. n. A parenthetical word, phrase, or remark. Nov 2, 2013 at 15:47
  • 1
    What the hell is "grammar flexibility" and what does it mean if it's "higher"? And how is it measured? Especially in formal wiring? Nov 2, 2013 at 17:08
  • @EdwinAshworth What makes you draw the interpretation? Where is the mention of "it isn't used as a noun" in the comment? Is your flavor of English or its interpretation a bit different from the ordinary?
    – Kris
    Nov 4, 2013 at 6:15

1 Answer 1


I've tried to think of an example with a very abrupt and fragmentary parenthetical:

Place the rocket in a suitable stable container, apply the slow match – CARE! – and move back to a safe distance.


Place the rocket in a suitable stable container, apply the slow match (CARE!) and move back to a safe distance.

I think the bracketed example feels better to me. Obviously, setting off using commas is inappropriate in this example.

I think we're into matters of style rather than rigid syntactic rules here. In a comic,

The Japer shot at the Birdplane with his six-foot-long (!) revolver.

would hardly give cause for concern (about grammar) to most readers. Two dashes would not work here. In formal writing, with a different target audience (I assume) (but then what do I know[in this area]?), I'd advise against these 'fringe'-usages, series and nested brackets ...

I suggest you work through Mark Nichol's 8 examples of different types of parentheticals (don't be surprised if you come upon additional types in your reading), looking at which type of setting off works for each example, what difference in abruptness of aside change in punctuation makes, and grammaticality of the parenthetical.

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