Somewhat related: "A/An" preceding a parenthetical statement

When writing mathematics, one sometimes wants to write things like

x is not contained in (the closure of) the space Y.

The typical interpretation of this is that the statement holds whether or not the parenthetical statement is read. In this case, x would be contained neither in the space Y nor in the closure of the space Y.

One could also shift the parentheses:

x is not contained in the (closure of the) space Y.

Is there any convention as to which is better writing? I suspect that the first is preferred. It has the advantage that reading the parenthetical phrase does not change the referencing of articles to nouns. Of course, this implies that if the articles were different the second construction would not be an option. The second construction seems quite a bit stranger, but I have seen both in writing and occasionally the second one really did seem better in context.

Is there any strict convention on which should be used, or is it acceptable to choose based on stylistic concerns?

Admittedly I don't know of any context outside of mathematics where one would write a phrase like the ones I have quoted. It may be that this is entirely inappropriate use of parentheses in standard English; if this is the case feel free to close the question.

3 Answers 3


I would prefer the first: in this case it seems better for the reader to be left with a preposition to remember than an article.

Here is a more extreme but similar case:

"finding (an integrated version of) a formula "

is better than

"finding an (integrated version of a) formula"

but better still would be to leave out the parentheses altogether.


I strongly prefer the first.

A parenthetical should be removable without affecting the structure (or grammatical correctness) of the sentence. In Henry's example, you can see that dropping the parenthetical phrase would result in "an formula", where the article is incorrect. This illustrates the danger fairly nicely, in my opinion.


You would not have a phrase/ clause/ segment with an article dangling precariously at the end, as in your second example. Worse still, a parenthesis inserted between the article and its noun.

Such a structure would be incongruent, illogical and certainly inconvenient to the reader.

The first example is in the 'conventional' way of writing.

This way of using parentheses is not unique to mathematical writing. It is common enough in general literature.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.