I often come across a use of parentheses where the parentheses refer to an "alternative layer" of a statement.

An example might be helpful here:

"Hence, changes in employment that increase (decrease) earnings or that cause investors to expect higher (lower) future earnings should lead to changes in stock prices."
Cascio, W. F., Young, C. E., & Morris, J. R. (1997). Financial consequences of employment-change decisions in major US corporations. Academy of Management Journal, 40(5), 1175-1189.

I've googled my heart out, but I can't seem to find anything on this kind of usage. I find it mostly in textbooks and academic papers. Is there a specific name for this usage of parentheses, and under which conditions is it appropriate?

UPDATE: I'm adding a more prototypical example, with a causal link between the pairs of alternatives:

"The higher (lower) the buyer's perceptions of the pace of technological change, the lower (higher) the likelihood that a closed consideration set will be used."
Heide, J. B., & Weiss, A. M. (1995). Vendor consideration and switching behavior for buyers in high-technology markets. The Journal of Marketing, 30-43.

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    I would call it a "parenthetical alternative"; but like you, I haven't been able to find a style guide or usage manual that discusses it. My sense is that it arose in the past two decades, perhaps influenced by computer programs that complete fill-in-the-blanks templates in different ways depending on certain triggering criteria. In any event, I think they are a bad idea because they clash with other uses of parentheses, such as parenthetical translations and parenthetical clarifications. "Police today arrested the vicious murderer (innocent bystander)"—who needs it? – Sven Yargs Oct 29 '14 at 1:37

The parentheses are equivalent to 'or' or the oblique ('/'). In the instant case, a "respectively" is additionally implied. This is a common usage.


Agreed, common, and implicative of brevity. This kind of abbreviation is typically used in coarse or rough notes that accompany the main article, wherein more formal constructs are likely to be used.

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    I think it's formal enough, not coarse/rough/draft style. – Kris Oct 29 '14 at 7:33

I would put it this way: Hence, changes in employment that increase or decrease earnings or changes that cause investors to expect higher or lower future earnings should lead to changes in stock prices.

  • It doesn't always mean the same thing, though. – Kris Oct 29 '14 at 8:36

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