Punctuation and Parentheses: Does the Period Go Inside or Outside?

sentence examples from the article of punctuation inside and outside parentheses
  • DESCRIPTION
    punctuation inside and outside parentheses examples sentences and explanation
  • SOURCE
    Created by Karina Goto for YourDictionary
  • PERMISSION
    Owned by YourDictionary, Copyright YourDictionary

Periods like hanging out with full sentences. When there’s a set of parentheses in a sentence, the period follows the full sentence, no matter where the parentheses are. But periods aren’t the only parentheses punctuation you need to know — they’re just the most common.

Does a Period Go Inside or Outside Parentheses?

When a parenthetical expression is a word or sentence fragment that interrupts a sentence, you don’t include a period. The only period is the one at the end of the sentence.

  • I invited Hugo (my best friend) to the wedding.
  • Many students (including Isabel and Claire) felt sick after lunch.

That’s not too confusing. But what happens when the parenthetical expression falls at the end of a sentence?

Periods Go Outside Parentheses When They Belong to the Sentence

The rule is exactly the same when parentheses end the sentence. Just like with quotation mark punctuation, periods go outside the parentheses when they belong to the sentence itself. 

  • I invited Hugo to the wedding (he’s my best friend).
  • Many students felt sick after lunch (including Isabel and Claire).

Periods Go Inside Parentheses When the Parenthetical Is a Full Sentence

You only include periods inside parentheses when the parenthetical expression is a full sentence — and the sentence before it has already ended.

  • I invited Hugo to the wedding. (He’s been my best friend since kindergarten.)
  • Many students felt sick after lunch. (Isabel and Claire got the worst of it.)

Notice that you also capitalize the first letter of the parenthetical expression when you’re using it as a full sentence.

Do You Ever Use Two Periods in a Row?

There shouldn’t be a time when you need to use two periods in a row, one inside the parentheses and one outside the parentheses. There are always more correct ways to write your sentences. 

  • Incorrect - I invited Hugo to the wedding (He’s been my best friend since kindergarten.).
  • Correct - I invited Hugo to the wedding. (He’s been my best friend since kindergarten.)
  • Also correct - I invited Hugo to the wedding (he’s been my best friend since kindergarten).

More Parentheses Punctuation Rules

You’ve got the period rules down — good for you! Now forget all that, because adding other types of punctuation marks follows completely different rules.

Question Marks and Exclamation Points Sometimes Go in Parentheses

If a sentence already has a question mark or exclamation mark, you don’t need to add another one inside the parenthetical expression if it contributes to the question or exclamation.

  • Have you seen my cat (gray, striped, meows a lot)?
  • I can’t believe I failed that class (and after I studied all week)!

However, if the parenthetical expression has a different tone than the whole sentence, add the appropriate punctuation mark inside — even if it’s just a fragment or a word — to show the tone change. 

  • My cat is missing (have you seen her?) so we’re searching for her.
  • I retook the class last week (even though I really didn’t want to!) and passed this time.

If the parenthetical expression ends the sentence, add a period after the parentheses to end the sentence (unlike the double period rule). It looks weird, but it’s correct.

  • My cat is missing (have you seen her?).
  • I retook the class last week (even though I really didn’t want to!).

Don’t Use Commas With Parentheses (Unless It’s a Numbered List)

Commas don’t go inside parentheses because they’re not terminal punctuation like periods, exclamation points, and question marks. You also never add a comma right before parentheses or right after parentheses.

You can use commas instead of parentheses to set off additional information. You just can’t use both parentheses and commas for the same purpose. 

  • Incorrect - Mr. Charles, (my math teacher) gave me a C.
  • Incorrect - Mr. Charles (my math teacher), gave me a C.
  • Incorrect - Mr. Charles (my math teacher,) gave me a C.
     
  • Correct - Mr. Charles (my math teacher) gave me a C. (No commas)
  • Also correct - Mr. Charles, my math teacher, gave me a C. (Commas replace parentheses)

You can use a comma right before parentheses when you’re making a numbered list within a sentence.

  • We need a few things at the grocery store: (1) flour, (2) sugar, and (3) butter.
  • John’s parents have four rules: (1) Be kind to your siblings, (2) Do your chores, (3) Do your homework, and (4) Be honest.

Colons and Semicolons Never Go in Parentheses

The rules get a little easier for colons and semicolons in parentheses — don’t put them in there. Colons and semicolons are part of the sentence around them, so they belong outside the parentheses.

  • There are three people I want on my team (among others): Fiona, Marcella, and Naomi.
  • He forgot his umbrella (despite my many reminders); however, he did remember his coat.

Parentheses Aren’t Always So Apparent

Parentheses are just one of the many types of punctuation marks that add voice — and information — to your writing. Learn how to enhance your sentences with a few more handy writing conventions.