The problem with parentheses: People tend to be a bit muzzy about exactly what they are. Can they be used grammatically? How are they different from a comma, or a dash? To make matters even fuzzier, in today's print world, parentheses are not only grammatical but graphic elements, as this must-see cartoon at demonstrates: TED talk on emoticons

(If only we could insert images on this blog!)

There-that's a perfectly good use of parentheses. Parentheses have very particular uses, and it can be reassuring to review them.
Use parentheses
1)    to enclose a whole sentence within a sentence;
2)    to enclose an aside or tangentially related idea;
3)    to enclose enumerators in a sentence or list-i.e. 1), 2), (1), (2).

DON'T use any punctuation before an opening parenthesis.
Use punctuation inside the parentheses if they enclose a complete sentence. (Be aware that some publishers and editors disagree on this.)
Use punctuation marks outside the parentheses when they enclose a fragment (like this one).

My "if only" was an aside to the reader, so parentheses are appropriate for that use. They can also enclose information such as birth and death dates, start and end dates, or sports statistics that provide tangentially related info.

Consider the following:

Pina Bausch (1940-2009) founded the Tanztheater Wupperthal, whose performances have delighted modern-dance audiences throughout the world.

The birth and death dates in the parentheses are good information for the reader but are only tangentially related to the sentence. This use of parentheses is often found in biographical and historical writing, and in some publications it is a part of house style.

Jarrod Washburn (4-5) faces Andy Pettitte (7-3) in tonight's showdown between the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees.

The numbers in parentheses represent each pitcher's record going into the game, an important statistic for fans to know; Washburn has won four games and lost five, while Pettitte has won seven and lost three.

It's good to keep a clear eye on the shifty border between grammar and house style. House style may dictate that every time a creative person is mentioned, their birth and death dates will appear in parens, directly after their name, or that a pitcher's record must always follow the first use of his name. Those are not grammar rules, of course. However, those usages are also grammatical, since the information is tangential.
Whew. Now, if anyone can figure out how to end a sentence with an emoticon ; )  . . .

Message Edited by Ellen_Scordato on 07-01-2009 05:36 PM
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