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If you have a word with an abjective between parentheses where you would normally use an instead of a, should you do this in this case too?

It's a little hard for me to explain, so here a concrete example: (acoustic) piano.

Should it be a (acoustic) piano or an (acoustic) piano, since you can choose to not pronounce acoustic?

marked as duplicate by Sven Yargs, sumelic, tchrist, Hellion, Edwin Ashworth Jul 29 '16 at 21:27

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  • 6
    Duplicate: english.stackexchange.com/q/3368/42179 – We oath to creation Jul 29 '16 at 19:45
  • Thanks, I couldn't find it. Is it an official grammar rule or is it just good practice? It's strange that [Grammarly](grammarly.com) suggest using an (acoustic) piano which is the contrary of the explanation given in [that question](english.stackexchange.com/q/3368/42179). – Kevin Jul 29 '16 at 19:54
  • If anything, you should look at the votes, not at the accepted answer per se. – We oath to creation Jul 29 '16 at 19:56
  • I wasn't realizing that. The opinion is divided. I'll take your advice and will use the rules given in the answer with the most upvotes. Thank you very much! – Kevin Jul 29 '16 at 20:03
  • Parens do NOT mean that when reading, you skip what's inside them. – tchrist Jul 29 '16 at 20:28

Very interesting query!

Copyeditor with 10 years under his belt, for what it's worth. Still learning new odds and ends of the English language daily.

As to this: Since the rule of a parentheses enclosed word is that the sentence can read perfectly fine without it--it merely adds value or some clarification, or what-have-you.

Thus, you would use the indefinite article that matches the noun--not the modifier in the parens. So, "I am having a (acoustic) piano tuned, yet again."

Think of it this way--"I am having a piano tuned, yet again." or, "I am having a piano (acoustic) tuned, yet again."

Whenever you run across an issue with those inserted sections of a sentence, be it between em dashes or brackets or the aforementioned parens, the best bet is to simply read the sentence without that section, and work the grammar that way. In the end, the sentence has to make sense without the dropped-in section, or it's inherently flawed to begin with--and your troubles have just begun!

Excuse the loquacity. Hope this helps.

  • 1
    That's the wrong rule. Sorry. The a/an rule is about English pronunciation, not punctuation. Punctuation is mostly silent and doesn't affect grammar. Following the rule you propose, you would have to say *He is a eleven-year-old boy because you have to say He is a boy eleven years old. Nope. The real rule is that a comes before a consonant sound and an comes before a vowel sound. Parentheses are irrelevant, as are optional alternative word orders. When it comes out of the mouth, a sentence only has one order. – John Lawler Jul 29 '16 at 20:36
  • Did you create an account so you could answer my question? Thank you so much! Your answer is very useful because you explain how to approach this kind of sentences. – Kevin Jul 29 '16 at 20:39
  • If you treat this type of construction as a purely logical entity, you might argue that the parentheses act to exclude the modifier from the core wording of the sentence, thus justifying "a (acoustic) piano." But I see two problems with treating the construction in this way: (1) as John Lawler observes, there are no parentheses in spoken English, and no one would say "a (acoustic) piano" and expect to get a pass because the parentheses were implied; (2) in written English both "a (acoustic) piano" and "an (acoustic) piano" are visually distracting—so much so that I wouldn't use either form. – Sven Yargs Jul 29 '16 at 20:57
  • Previous threads here have demonstrated that the 'rule' "a parenthetical is always deletable such that the matrix sentence is totally acceptable without it" has exceptions. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 29 '16 at 21:32
  • @SvenYargs It is not true that "there are no parentheses in spoken English" (and does Lawler actually say this?). McCawley gives a good account in TSPE -- at the left paren the pitch drops, remains low, and at the paired right paren the pitch is resumed at the level it was before the parenthesized material started to be pronounced. So a phonologist might ask whether a pitch drop would affect the applicability of the rule that drops the "n" of the "an". I have no opinion about the facts. The rule your comment suggests, drop the "n" when both the parenthetical and what follows it (cont.) – Greg Lee Jul 29 '16 at 22:03

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