What Is an Aside in Speech and Writing?

Royal Shakespeare Company performance, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England.
VisitBritain/Britain on View / Getty Images

In conversation or drama, an aside is a short passage that is spoken in an undertone or addressed to an audience. In written form, an aside may be set off by parentheses.

Examples and Observations in Literature

  • "As we went in to dinner, Mrs. Ashcroft-Fowler said in a quiet aside to her husband, 'Has Meadows spoken?' He shook his head rather gloomily and answered, 'No, he has said nothing yet.' I saw them exchange a glance of quiet sympathy and mutual help, like people in trouble, who love one another."
    (Stephen Leacock, ​"Are the Rich Happy", "Further Foolishness")
  • "Every Tuesday I sit down with the speaker and the majority leader to discuss the week's agenda. Well, discuss is probably the wrong word. They talk while I sit quietly and imagine their lightly salted faces frying in a skillet."
    (Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood in an aside to the audience in "Chapter 2" of "House of Cards", 2013)
  • "He made us a list: we'd need to get some black sesame seed, a specifically sized white porcelain bowl, a bottle of 100 (or stronger)-proof alcohol, and a large, new, six-inch kitchen knife. (I swear to you I'm not making this up. He may have been making it up, but I'm telling you exactly what happened.)"
    (Paul Reiser, "Familyhood")
  • "I admired [C.S. Lewis's] use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just go talk to you. Suddenly the author would address a private aside to you, the reader. It was just you and him. I'd think, 'Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses.'"
    (Neil Gaiman interviewed by Hank Wagner in "Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman")
  • Simonides: Traitor, thou liest.
    Pericles: Traitor!
    Simonides: Ay, traitor.
    Pericles: Even in his throat -- unless it be the king --
    That calls me traitor, I return the lie.
    Simonides: [Aside] Now, by the gods, I do applaud his courage.
    (William Shakespeare, "Pericles", Act II, scene five)
  • "Their marriage was like some horrible play. There were only two characters, but they never addressed each other directly. They did all their speaking in asides to the audience."
    (Christina Bartolomeo, "Cupid and Diana: A Novel")
  • "If you are slow at this point, reader, to credit what I tell you, it will not be remarkable. For I who observed it, can barely allow myself to believe."
    (Dante, "Inferno", Canto 25)

A Long Parenthetical Aside

"To the inevitable question of how a City Night School teacher of English as a second language to HIV-negative Somalian women (they have to be HIV negative or they would never get in; you're forced to take a test, which means that when we all get some perspective around the year 2050 or so, some old Somalian woman is going to sue the city for forced HIV testing and be awarded another bundle. This parenthetical aside has gone on too long, and now I must start again). To the inevitable question of how a Night School teacher of English as a second language affords two downtown rents, Julie said, 'Well, first of all. I don't live downtown..."
(Darren Greer, "Still Life With June")

Punctuating Parenthetical Asides

"It is possible to enclose an entire, complete sentence with a pair of parentheses, something that cannot be done with a pair of dashes. Such a sentence could stand on its own, for instance in the midst of a paragraph, as a parenthetical aside to the sentence that preceded it. Of course, this parenthetical aside must be so complete that it merits its own sentence, a fairly unusual circumstance. As in:

'I'm on a strictly vegetarian diet. (Well, not strictly, I do eat fish from time to time.) The doctors say it will do wonders for my heart.​'

The aside is a complete thought, so it cannot fit in the midst of a sentence. Thus it is given its own sentence, made possible by parentheses."
(Noah Lukeman, "A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation")

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Aside in Speech and Writing?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/aside-speech-and-writing-1689005. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). What Is an Aside in Speech and Writing? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/aside-speech-and-writing-1689005 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Aside in Speech and Writing?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/aside-speech-and-writing-1689005 (accessed June 5, 2023).