Where have all the left parentheses gone?

Today is another day in which I am curmudgeon regarding grammar.

Why, oh why, is it deemed acceptable by so many to have forlorn, partnerless right parentheses?  I am referring in particular to the common practice of presenting a numbered list in which each number is followed by a “)”, as follows:

The items are: 1) first item, 2) another item, and 3) a third item.

Argh!  If the numbers are parenthetical remarks (as they often are), then they should be treated like parenthetical remarks in other contexts, i.e., with two parentheses:

The items are: (1) first item, (2) another item, and (3) a third item.

One could use commas, although that gets a bit confusing:

The items are: 1, first item, 2, another item, and, 3,  a third item.

There are some contexts in which one might want only one punctuation mark following the number, and none before.  There are punctuation marks designed for being singletons, and punctuation marks that are intended to be used alone should be used when only one is desired.  For example, instead of

The items are:
1) first item
2) another item
3) a third item

one could simply use colons or periods:

The items are:
1. first item
2. another item
3. a third item

Why one would want to use one half of a pair of parentheses in this context is beyond me.  Why force a new and rather different use on a punctuation mark when there are other perfectly good punctuation marks that are built for the job?  Whenever I encounter unmatched right parentheses I feel as if I somehow neglected to notice the left parentheses that preceded them. Parentheses are meant to be in pairs.

As you might expect, paired parentheses is another one of those language requirements I inflict upon my graduate students.

I am reminded of this relevant xkcd comic.

This entry was posted in Language. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Where have all the left parentheses gone?

  1. Dru’s comment on this blog post: “I LIKE single parentheses for lists! Sorry David. See, at least when it’s like this…


    …then the “left parenthesis” is sort of substituted by the margin.”

  2. Pingback: Thou shalt not use unbalanced parentheses for list item labels | Reflections on a Spider's Eyes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s