Using parenthesis in your writing

Learning focus

To use brackets, dashes and commas correctly when showing parenthesis in your writing.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos to help you understand the different ways parenthesis can be shown

  • three activities


When we're writing, we can add extra words to a sentence to give more information or explanation.

We call the extra words that have been added a parenthesis.

Brackets, dashes or commas (punctuation that we use to help us add those extra words) are sometimes called parentheses. Notice the slight difference in spelling.

Watch this SuperMovers video to learn more about this. If you’re feeling energetic, get up and join in with the song!

Learn about brackets, dashes and commas with this SuperMovers clip.

Parenthesis can also show words that have been added to a sentence as an ‘afterthought’ – something you maybe didn’t intend to say at first, but decided to add later to help you explain something.

Read through the information below on how brackets, dashes and commas are used for parenthesis, and to see further examples.


Brackets are a useful form of punctuation and look like this: ( )

They always come in pairs and are placed around extra information that has been added to a sentence.

Brackets allow you to start writing about something, then to break off for a moment to add in some extra information related to what you're saying, and then to go back to finish what you had started to write.

Find out more about using brackets in this video.

Find out when to use brackets.

An important point is that if you leave out the words in a sentence that have been placed in brackets, your sentence should still make sense.

Compare these two sentences:

Albert the alien (who had no training) was in charge of the wrecking ball.

Albert the alien was in charge of the wrecking ball.

The extra information '(who had no training)' has been removed in the second sentence, but it still makes sense when we read it.

Top tip!

  • Adding information in brackets allows us to add an explanation or description, to make something clearer.

Dashes and commas

Instead of a pair of brackets, you can also use a pair of dashes (– –) or a pair of commas (, ,) to add extra information to a sentence.

Like brackets, these always come in pairs and are placed around the extra information added to the sentence.

Look at these examples, the first with commas and the second with dashes:

Albert the alien, who was feeling hungry, went for his lunch break.

Albert the alien - and he was shocked to discover this - had left his packed lunch at home.

They both work in a similar way to brackets:

Albert the alien (annoyingly!) had to go all the way back to this home planet to get his lunch.

Top tip!

  • Use brackets when you want your parenthesis to stand out clearly and it comes with its own extra punctuation, such as an exclamation mark.
  • Use dashes when you want your writing to sound more chatty and informal.
  • Use commas, when your writing is more formal and you haven't already used lots of commas in your sentence - adding a parenthesis with even more commas could make your sentence look messy!


You may need paper and a pen or pencil for some of these activities.

Activity 1

Have a go at this activity - can you highlight the words that should be in brackets?

Click on the activity to begin.

Activity 2

Now try this quiz to test your skills in using brackets, dashes and commas correctly for parenthesis!

Activity 3

Look at the sentences below that have come from different books.

Unfortunately the authors of the books have forgotten to show where the parenthesis is supposed to be!

Re-write the sentences and add brackets, dashes or commas to show parenthesis and make the writing completely clear.

Top tip!

  • When you read the sentences, try to work out which information could be taken away but not change the meaning of the original sentence. This will help you to spot where the parenthesis should go.

1. Add brackets to the sentences beneath the book titles to show parenthesis.

One has been done for you as an example.

Blue Whale Ocean by C. Greene

Blue whales like human beings are warm-blooded mammals.

Blue whales (like human beings) are warm-blooded mammals.

How to be great by I.M. Bigheaded

I always find any challenge super easy a fact that not everyone realises because I'm just the best.

2. Add dashes to the sentences beneath the book titles to show parenthesis.

Tower of Terror by I.C. Shivers

"We've been walking and we are definitely lost by the way for hours!" wailed JJ.

Play the guitar and go far by U.R.A. Pro

Make sure you tune the strings something you should do daily before you play.

3. Add commas to the sentences beneath the book titles to show parenthesis.

Albert the Alien by Anne Dromeda

Albert carefully and thoughtfully checked his star map.

Be the best at broadcasting by T.V. Skills

One of the stars of the show a really famous singer was always late for rehearsals.

You can check your answers on this answer sheet.

Where next?

In this lesson you have learned how to use brackets, dashes and commas correctly when showing parenthesis in your writing.

There are other useful articles on Bitesize to help you with your punctuation.

Want some more punctuation practice?

Then try our Crystal Explorers challenge!

  • First, start the game and choose the Challenge mode.

  • Then, select the Punctuation topic followed by the Advanced punctuation sub-topic.

Click to play the game

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