Parenthetical Clauses

A parenthetical clause interrupts another sentence with which it is either not connected syntactically or is only loosely connected with separate parts of the sentence [4].

Parenthetical clauses are often called comment clauses, because they do not simply add to the information given in the sentence, but comment on its truth, the manner of saying it, or express the attitude of the speaker toward it. In some cases it is direct address to the listener or reader [4].

He waited (which was his normal occupation) and thought, like other citizens, of the cost of living… In this example some information is added.

…there is, as it were, a transparent barrier between myself and strong emotions. In this sentence the figurative meaning of the utterance is indicated.

My parents, you know, were peasants. Here Parenthesis directs address to the listener.

Parenthetical clauses may be patterned like independent sentences, coordinate, main, or subordinate clauses. In all cases the mechanism of turning a sentence or clause into a Parenthesis is the same – the inverting of their usual sequence or placing the parenthetical clause in an unusual position, which changes their communicative value. The embedded structure acquires a secondary status, informing the reader of the author’s opinion of the utterance, or containing some comment on the content of the embedding sentence, or else addressing the reader directly. The embedding structure is primary in importance and structurally independent. The following sentences may be taken as examples [4]:

A parenthetical clause patterned like an independent sentence.

Although the evening was still light – we dined early – the lamps were on.

A parenthetical clause patterned like a coordinate clause.

She cooked – and she was a good cook – and marketed and chatted with the delivery boys.

A parenthetical clause patterned like an adverbial clause of manner.

As you put it, it sounds convincing.

A parenthetical clause patterned like an attributive clause.

Does your objection to tea (which I do frightfully want) mean that we’re unlikely to be alone?

A parenthetical clause patterned like an adverbial clause of condition

Mr. Ford – if this was now to be his name – walked slowly up to the counter.

Parenthetical clauses may be patterned like different communicative types of sentences or clauses – statements, questions, imperative or exclamatory sentences or clauses. For example:

It was – why hadn’t he noticed it before? – beginning to be an effort for her to hold her back straight. In this case a parenthetical clause patterned like a why-question [4].

I felt – such curious shapes egoism fakes! – that they had come because of me. Here a parenthetical clause patterned like an exclamatory sentence [Kubrina].

Clauses as means of Parenthesis are used to separate expressions inserted in the body of a sentence. In different situations they can carry various meanings and denote different functions. The most important their functions are:

Expressing personal mental activity Clauses patterned like main clauses with verbs of saying and those denoting mental activity are included to this group.

But is it possible to single out such clauses as parenthetical ones?

The linguistic elements that may be used for the purpose of the realization of a standpoint in discourse are the ones that can be both syntactically and semantically detached from the rest of the elements of the utterance in which they appear [55].

A linguistic element is syntactically detached when it occurs in various positions within the same sentence, without rendering that sentence ungrammatical:

I suppose, your house is very old.

Your house is, I suppose, very old.

Your house is very old, I suppose.

In the above example, the parenthetical verb I suppose can appear in all three positions without affecting the grammaticality of the sentence or changing its meaning [55].

A linguistic element is semantically detached when its presence or absence does not alter the core meaning of the sentence:

To cut a long story short, she left.

She left.

Wisely, Jane did not answer my letter.

Jane did not answer my letter.

In the above examples, the presence or absence of the non-finite clause to cut a long story short or of the adverb wisely does not change the information that the speaker conveys. On the contrary, in the following utterances the presence or absence of the non-finite clause or of the adverb conveys a different message:

She asked him to cut a long story short.

She asked him.

Jane did not answer my letter wisely.

Jane did not answer my letter.

As the constructed examples above show, the syntactic and semantic detachability is not necessarily a property of certain linguistic elements but rather a feature of the specific use that can be made of these linguistic elements. This means that it is not a semantic or syntactic property of finite and non-finite clauses or of adverbs, for example, to be detached, rather that a finite clause or adverb can be used in a detached way in certain cases, and not in others [55].

That’s why, it’s quite possible to rate among this group of clauses the following phrases.

There are examples of using such clauses:

I mean – they’re, they’re entitled to, I suppose, interpret stuff as they must [COCA, SPOK, 2011]

Those of us who teach women’s studies, I believe, have a responsibility to ask the tough questions about women in leadership, while at the same time preparing our students to lead – and to lead with honesty, empathy, respect and courage [COCA, MAG, 2011].

My wife, a literal saint (I mean, a real saint) lets Brigid sleep next to her and deals with the mess with total aplomb [COCA, MAG, 2011].

Showing personal attitude to what is said

The following clauses can also be used for giving personal attitude.


As far as I can see, the only disadvantage to having a pregnant lady around the home is that it’s always your turn to get up [COCA, FIC, 2006].

I think it’s going to take a lot of time and I don’t think – I agree with you, you don’t want to go cutting crazy now in the sense that if you’re going to hurt the economy [COCA, SPOK, 2011].

Trying to direct somebody’s attention

Quite a number of parenthetical clauses are stereotyped conversation formulas, used to attract the listener’s attention or to show the reaction of the speaker and to catch the listener’s attention, to accentuate on what is said:

You know, You see/I see, You just imagine

So, you know, you don’t want to sound – you don’t want to blame somebody else for a mistake that you made [COCA, SPOK, 2007].

You see, our timing has always been off [COCA, FIC, 2011].

Making an interruption

This group consists of clauses, which are paste in the sentence to interrupt or to step aside from the main idea. For example:

He had no experience as a counselor – he’d be the first to tell you that – having taken a teaching degree in studio art. In his other life, after school hours, he made collages and watercolors and paintings; he’d framed one small, blurry, burnt orange rectangle and propped it on his desk corner where the other counselors would have displayed bland smiley photos of their spouses and children [COCA, FIC, 2011].

Supplementing the information in the main clause

To this group belong clauses, which carry some comments, personal thoughts and attitude of the author to what was said in the main sentence. For instance:

The family’s house, on a golf course 30 miles from the Strip, is a relatively modest four-bedroom affair (although it’s worth noting that they have two other homes, including a $20 million spread in Florida with its own water park, and Dion will be spending only part of her time in Vegas) [COCA, MAG, 2011].

Pasting the definition or explanation

This group includes clauses which give some additional explanation, definition of some unknown item in the text:

Several of those caught up in the probe say they expect the number of midshipmen who will be ” separated ” – the term academy officials use for expulsion – to reach more than a dozen [COCA, NEWS, 2011].

In 2009, the luxury-goods industry saw a 23 percent increase in online abuse, including “cyber squatting,” the term given to Web sites that unlawfully incorporate a brand’s name into their domain name and sell counterfeit versions of their products [COCA, MAG, 2011].

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