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Using Parentheses

Punctuation Used To Provide Supplemental Information or Alternatives


Parentheses (el paréntesis in the singular, los paréntesis in the plural) are usually used in Spanish to enclose explanatory or supplemental information, often within a sentence. When parentheses are used this way, they are used much as they are in English.

Single words or numbers as well as complete sentences (or, rarely, more) can be included in parentheses.

Here are some examples of such usage:

  • El producto interno bruto (PIB) es el valor monetario total de la producción de bienes y servicios de un país. The gross domestic product (GDP) is the total monetary value of goods and services produced in a country.
  • Qatar (conocido oficialmente como el Estado de Qatar) es un emirato del Oriente Medio ubicado en una pequeña península. Qatar (officially known as the State of Qatar) is a Mideast emirate located on a tiny peninsula.
  • Madonna nació el 16 de agosto de 1958 en el barrio de Bay City (Detroit, Míchigan). Madonna was born Aug. 16, 1958, in the Bay City neighborhood (Detroit, Mich.).
  • La primera aplicación práctica generalizada de la electricidad fue el telégrafo de Samuel Morse (1833). The first widespread practical application of electricity was the telegraph of Samuel Morse (1833).

Parenthesis similarly can be used to provide options. The most common reason to indicate such options are to indicate that either the singular or plural forms can apply, or both male and female:

  • Motivamos a los niños(as) para que les guste el ejercicio. We're motivating the boys/girls so they like exercise.
  • La(s) persona(s) abajo firmante(s) autoriza(n) el pago. The person(s) who signed below authorize(s) the payment.

Note that in the above examples, it also would have been possible to use a slash (barra in Spanish), as also can be done in English: Motivamos a los niños/as para que les guste el ejercicio. La/s persona/s abajo firmante/s authoriza/n el pago.

Parenthesis also are used to enclose ellipses (tres puntos) to indicate that material was omitted in a quotation. Such parentheses are not used in English: El Congreso no hará ley (...) que coarte la libertad de expresión. Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech. Some publications use square brackets [such as these], called corchetes in Spanish, instead of parenthesis to enclose ellipses.

Parentheses can also be used in numbered or lettered lists:

  • Le ofrecemos los siguientes tipos de préstamo:
    (a) Crédito a corto plazo.
    (b) Préstamo para la vivienda.
    (c) Préstamos personales.
  • We offer you the following types of loans:
    (a) Short-term credit.
    (b) Home loans.
    (c) Personal loans.

As in English, itemized lists can also be done using only a closing parenthesis in each listed item: a) Crédito a corto plazo.

Primary reference source: Diccionario panhispánnico de dudas published by the Royal Spanish Academy.

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