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VOLOKH CONSPIRACY

Mostly law professors, blogging on whatever we please since 2002 · Hosted by The Washington Post, 2014-2017 · Hosted by Reason 2017 · Sometimes contrarian · Often libertarian · Always independent

When a Whole Sentence Is in Parentheses, the Period Goes There, Too

That's both logical and customary.

If you're putting a whole sentence in parentheses, the custom follows logic -- put the period inside the parentheses, not outside it. Thus, for an example from a court case (in a state, California, where citation sentences are often put in parentheses),

A two-step analysis is required when the superior court is requested to rule on a special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statutory framework. (Equilon Enterprises v. Consumer Cause, Inc. (2002) 29 Cal.4th 53, 67.)

The same thing with a more traditional English sentence would read,

A two-step analysis is required when the superior court is requested to rule on a special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statutory framework. (The California Supreme Court has taken this view since at least 2002.)

The following is not customary (focus on the last two characters):

A two-step analysis is required when the superior court is requested to rule on a special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statutory framework. (Equilon Enterprises v. Consumer Cause, Inc. (2002) 29 Cal.4th 53, 67).

In general, in the American styles to which I'm accustomed -- especially legal style -- the rule is that punctuation follows logic except (1) periods and commas (but not colons, semicolons, question marks, exclamation points, and other punctuation) generally go within quotation marks, even if they would logically go outside them, and (2) footnote references go after periods, commas, colons, and semicolons, even if they would logically go before them. (As you might gather, I'm speaking here descriptively, about the norms as I understand them, not about the norms as they should be.) I'm particularly confident about this with regard to California style for citations, but I think the norm is likely the same in other courts as well.

Just to make clear, the "logic" here is that, when the entire sentence is set off as a parenthetical, the period is part of the sentence and goes within the parentheses. On the other hand, if the parenthetical is just a clause within a sentence (whether the clause is a citation or plain English), then the period -- or other punctuation -- goes outside the parentheses, e.g.,

A two-step analysis is required when the superior court is requested to rule on a special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statutory framework (a view the California Supreme Court has taken since at least 2002).

Picayune, I realize, but helpful if you want to make your writing -- especially legal writing -- look especially tidy and professional.

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  • darkknight9||

    "...a view he California..."

    the? :)

  • Eugene Volokh||

    Whoops, thanks, fixed!

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    The rules you describe are sound, and follow logic. The logic, however, is graphical, not linguistic. Each of the rules you mention is applied alike in professional typography—pretty much without regard for the type of writing being typeset.

    The graphical objective is to set the type in a way that the overall appearance is compact, and stand-out graphical features which draw unwarranted optical focus are minimized or done away with. The periods and commas you mention would, if set outside quotation marks, create a visual interruption in the flow of the type, with atypically large white space between two words on either side.

    In professional typesetting the optimization is taken a step further, especially in headlines, with quotation marks moved left until they appear vertically above the period or comma. Because that can't be done with colons, semicolons, question marks, or exclamation points, they get different treatment.

    Widely-available applications some people use for everyday work can automate those kinds of graphical adjustments (called kerning, and applied also to many other character pairs), but you may have to know how to enable that as a feature. Later versions of Microsoft Word may offer limited ability of that sort. Not sure how automated it is, because I try to avoid Word.

  • Eidde||

    Ain't nothing like some good grammar.

  • jdgalt1||

    I agree with this rule of English usage, but not entirely with the third example, since the citation in parentheses there is not a complete sentence. I would probably have written that example just as it is, except that I'd omit the period after "framework".

  • California Dreamer||

    Whether or not it's a general rule of English usage, Professor Volokh's example depicts the way it's done in California courts, so long as the citation is authority for the point discussed in the entire sentence. See my discussion of the point below.

  • Beldar||

    Prof. V wrote:

    I'm particularly confident about this with regard to California style for citations, but I think the norm is likely the same in other courts as well.

    My observations from practicing in Texas for 37 years are entirely consistent with what Prof. V describes in this post.

  • California Dreamer||

    I worked at the California Supreme Court and can confirm that Prof. Volokh is correct. A trickier question is when to put a cite inside the period at the end of a sentence and when to put it outside. It goes outside if it's authority for the proposition discussed in the entire sentence, but inside if it's authority only for the proposition discussed in the last clause of the sentence. If it's outside, put a period at the end of the parenthetical; no period is necessary if it's inside the sentence. These 2 sentences from the court's recent decision in People v. Buza illustrate the point: The cite at the end of the 1st sentence is inside the period and the cite at the end of the 2nd sentence is outside.
    Defendant next points out that the Maryland law upheld in King permitted collection of a DNA sample only of arrestees "charged" with qualifying crimes (Md. Code Ann., Pub. Saf., § 2-504(b)(1)), and prohibited officials from testing the sample or loading the profile into the statewide database until after the arrestee was arraigned and a judicial officer determined that the arrest was based on probable cause (id., § 2-504(d)(1)). The DNA Act, by contrast, allows collection "immediately following arrest" and provides that the samples shall "immediately" be forwarded to the laboratory for analysis. (Pen. Code, § 295(i)(1)(C).)
    This is hypertechnical, and no one will care if you get it wrong. On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to get it right.

  • SykesFive||

    That seems to be an application of the Bluebook rule concerning citation of authorities supporting multiple propositions, adapted to California's practice of putting citations within parentheses.

    If the propositions are in different sentences, then the authorities also constitute citation sentences.

    Proposition 1. Authority A. Proposition 2. Authority B.

    But if there are distinct propositions in the same sentence, then the authorities are embedded within that sentence.

    Proposition 1, authority A, and proposition 2, authority B.

    (One often sees "Proposition 1, authority A, and proposition 2. Authority B.")

  • letters2mary||

    Not even especially tidy and professional, just functionally literate.

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

    Where should the punctuation go when certain people use parentheses to indicate membership in a (((tribe they don't like)))?

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