The title sentence could be rendered in two ways: the one above, or

Does a (optionally) parenthesised word...

This might be more appropriate since the "optionally" has a kind of “removable” function like a footnote, and

Does an parenthesised word...

is clearly wrong.

Yet reading "Does a (optionally)..." feels weird too.

Likewise, when

reading the (also parenthesis-containing) sentence

aloud, should one pronounce the "the" as ðə or as ðiː?

What about

Does an (parenthesised) optional word...


reading the (parenthesis-containing) example?


2 Answers 2


The a/an rule is a pronunciation rule, not a spelling rule. You could remove the parenthesis around the "optional" word, and it would be still a fully valid sentence. This is also how you pronounce it in your head when reading.

I have found a (fairly short) answer to a similar question on the other English language project from StackExchange, which sourced a lot of the information:


Make sure to check out the comments as well as the other answers.


The rules for "a" vs "an" depend strictly on how the sentence would sound when spoken aloud. Since the parentheses don't silence the word, you ignore them when deciding which article to use. So the correct versions are

  • "Does an (optionally) parenthesized word..."
  • "Does a (parenthesized) word..."

And the same rules apply with the pronunciations of "the". It's all about whatever sound comes next.

As an aside, people are more consistent about "a" vs "an" than they are about the two pronunciations of "the". Also, because it is the sound that counts, you write "a uniform" rather than "an uniform", because "uniform" begins with the sound of the consonant "y".

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