03 April 2012

No comma before open parentheses

This is another one of those finicky little rules that the ACT likes to test. It’s an annoying one because it involves not one but two kinds of punctuation, in this case commas and parentheses (which aren’t tested all that frequently), but it’s not overly tricky to apply. In fact, if you look back at the previous sentence, you’ll see that I just used it. Here’s whole rule:

It is not ok to use a comma before an open parenthesis, but it IS ok to use a comma after a close parenthesis.

Correct: The Caribbean Sea contains some of the world’s most stunning coral reefs (which are home to thousands of species of marine life), but many of them are in danger because of overfishing and pollution.

But it’s not fine to say:

Incorrect: The Caribbean Sea contains some of the world’s most stunning coral reefs, (which are home to thousands of species of marine life), but many of them are in danger because of overfishing and pollution.

Why? Because in terms of affecting other forms of punctuation in the sentence, those parentheses are completely irrelevant. You can look at them sentence as if they simply didn’t exist. If we do in fact take out the parentheses in the second version of the sentence, we are left with two commas next to one another:

Incorrect: The Caribbean Sea contains some of the world’s most stunning coral reefs,, but many of them are in danger because of overfishing and pollution.

There is no situation ever in which two commas in a row are acceptable. But that’s exactly what we get. If, on the other hand, we take out the parentheses in the first version, we get:

Correct: The Caribbean Sea contains some of the world’s most stunning coral reefs, but many of them are in danger because of overfishing and pollution.

And we no longer have the extra comma to deal with.

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