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Does a Subject in Parentheses Affect Your Verb Choice?

Words inside parentheses can affect which verb you use. 

By
Mignon Fogarty

A lawyer friend recently asked me how words inside parentheses affect which verb you use, and it’s a nice extension to the podcast last week about the basics of subject-verb agreement. Here’s a simplified form of the sentence that had him confused:

The Sherman Act (and the Federal Trade Commission Act) do not apply to state agencies.

But should it be do not apply, as though the subject is plural (the Sherman Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act), or does not apply, as though the subject is singular (just the Sherman Act)?

Ignore nouns inside parentheses when you are choosing a verb. 

If the sentence didn’t have parentheses, it would have a compound subject—plural—and you’d write The Sherman Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act do not apply.

But those parentheses change things. The parentheses tell us that part of the sentence is extra information; it can be ignored. Therefore, we ignore it when we’re choosing our verb: the sentence has a singular subject, and the right choice is does:

The Sherman Act (and the Federal Trade Commission Act) does not apply.

As you have probably gathered, putting that second part in parentheses makes the sentence awkward. No matter which verb you use, readers are going to wonder whether it’s wrong, so it’s usually better to ask yourself if those parentheses are really necessary and to rewrite the sentence.

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Nouns in parentheses can affect your verb choice in weird ways that make grammatically correct but awkward sentences. In cases such as this, rewrite!

Sources

Garner, B. “Parentheses.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, third edition. Oxford University Press, 2009. p. 679.

“Q&A: Usage.” The Chicago Manual of Style Online. http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/Usage/faq0180.html (accessed March 18, 2015).

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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