The other question only asks about parenthetical phrases, not slash phrases.

The other question's parenthetical phrase (answer(s) explained that it's not really a parenthetical phrase) is a separate word. Mine is an intra-word parenthetical prefix. That's different!

Extreme votes on a Stack Exchange post often indicates that there was a(n) (dis)agreement.

When you see spam on Stack Exchange, you should cast a(n) upvote/flag.

The ship traveled across a(n) sea/ocean.

The first example's parenthetical thingymajigger is equivalent to the slash phrase "agreement/disagreement."

What's the correct singular indefinite article to use before slash phrase (this/that) and parenthetical phrases ((a)sexual, (de)criminalize)?

  • 1
    Since I would write "a sea or ocean," I would write "a sea/ocean," not "a(n) sea/ocean." The indefinite article used is determined by the starting sound of the next word that is to be spoken when read aloud, nothing else. Reading "a sea/ocean" aloud, I would say "sea" next no matter how I treated the "/" character, whether I said "slash," used "or," or simply gave a short pause before saying "ocean." Were it "acerbic sea/ocean," I'd say "an" because the next word starts with a vowel sound. It doesn't matter what the nouns are, just what the next sound is.
    – Billy
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 1:59
  • 2
    As for "a(n) (dis)agreement," I would never write that. It's confusing. Any reader is going to stumble there and then spend the next few moments trying to work out the meaning. Efficiency is appreciated by readers but is self-defeating when it trips your reader up. So while not specifically ungrammatical, I can't imagine any style guide that would condone writing "a(n) (dis)agreement"-- or even, for that matter, "a (dis)agreement." Even that sentence, "Extreme votes...often indicated that there was an agreement," it is nonsensical. "Disagreement" maybe makes sense, but "agreement" doesn't.
    – Billy
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 2:11
  • Non-native speaker here. I agree with the questioner, this is not a duplicate, and has not even been answered yet. I had to guess from english.stackexchange.com/a/36326/410036 the following: The a/an that you would read out loud for the first word of the slash phrase is all that you need, since any slash is just a shortcut for "or" + the freedom of saying "a" or "an", that is, the indefinite article of your choice. It took me way too long to find out about this. If this comments is right, the question should be reopened to get this answer, but from a native speaker. Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 16:02
  • @questionto42standswithUkraine If you want this question reopened, especially after so long, then it should be edited so that it is clear how it is different from the marked duplicate. Putting the phrase "not a duplicate" isn't sufficient for this purpose. Then, you might post a link to the question and you rationale for why it should be opened on the Meta site so that our high rep users can vote to reopen if they agree with you.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 19:00

1 Answer 1


Such constructions are a matter of style, so there is no single "correct" way of dealing with them.

If I refer to The Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.), 6.95:

Parentheses—stronger than a comma and similar to the dash—are used to set off material from the surrounding text. Like dashes but unlike commas, parentheses can set off text that has no grammatical relationship to the rest of the sentence.

Although I'm somewhat familiar with what you're doing with the parentheses in your examples, I believe that Chicago, at least, would not recommend putting text inside of parentheses that actually does have some kind of grammatical relationship with the rest of a sentence—especially if doing so causes awkwardness.

In general, you should write sentences in such a way that if the parenthetical information were removed, the surrounding text would be completely unaffected. (In other words, the grammar used outside the parentheses should be completely unaffected by the text inside the parentheses.)

As for slashes, here is Chicago, 6.106:

A slash most commonly signifies alternatives. In certain contexts it is a convenient (if somewhat informal) shorthand for or. It is also used for alternative spellings or names. Where one or more of the terms separated by slashes is an open compound, a space before and after the slash can make the text more legible.

      World War I / First World War

Although it doesn't specifically mention its stance on grammar around slashes, I suspect Chicago would say that, as they are just shorthand for longer (and more formal) constructions, if their use causes a problem, then use a longer construction instead.

In other words, when such constructions become grammatically awkward, I suspect the "proper" thing to do is to rephrase rather than to look for a specific rule of grammar (which likely doesn't exist).

For example:

Extreme votes on a Stack Exchange post often indicated that there was an agreement or disagreement.

When you see spam on Stack Exchange, you should case an upvote or flag.

They ship traveled across a sea or ocean.

On the other hand, if you are using a style guide that does say what to do in such circumstances, then follow its advice.

  • 2
    None of this has anything to do with the choice between a and an, though, Jason, does it now. I think the OP is better helped by this answer to the exact same question from 8 years ago: "The a/an rule is based purely on sound. Would you say the words inside the parentheses if you were reading the sentence out loud? If yes, then you use the first word in the parentheses to decide whether or not to use an or a. If not, then—wait, what do you mean you wouldn’t say the words in parentheses?!"
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 0:34
  • 1
    @RegDwigнt It certainly does. If the choice is awkward, avoid the parenthetical or slash. Between (1) "an sea/ocean," (2) "a sea/ocean," and (3) "a(n) sea ocean," I would pick (2) as the least awkward. But it's simpler to remove awkwardness altogether by simply eschewing both shortcuts and rephrasing. Also, the phrase a(n) (dis)agreement in the question here—as well as the additional question about slashes— goes beyond just looking at a or an in front of parenthetical information only. Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 0:44
  • @JasonBassford Could you add that last comment to the answer? Some readers might not read through the comments, and it would help get a quick understanding. See english.meta.stackexchange.com/a/15497/410036. Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 16:15

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