Brackets in Punctuation

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms


Brackets are marks of punctuation[ ] used to interject text within other text. Types of brackets include:

  • brackets (chiefly American): [ ]
  • square brackets (chiefly British): [ ]
  • parentheses (chiefly American): ( )
  • round brackets (chiefly British): ( )
  • brace or curly brackets: { }
  • angle brackets: < >

Examples and Observations

  • "A pair of brackets is used within quotations to show that you are making minor additions or changes to a source's words. Be careful that your changes don't alter the meaning of the original material."
    (David Blakesley and Jeffrey Hoogeveen, The Thomson Handbook. Thomson Wadsworth, 2008
  • "Use brackets to enclose any words or phrases that you have inserted into an otherwise word-for-word quotation:
    Audubon reports that "if there are not enough young to balance deaths, the end of the species [California condor] is inevitable."
    The sentence quoted from the Audubon article did not contain the words California condor (since the context made clear what species was meant), so the writer needed to add the name in brackets."
    (Diana Hacker, The Bedford Handbook, 6th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002
  • "When intensifiers lack force, they are sometimes propped up by italics--'she was very important, very rich"'--or, in speech, by volume and theatrical pauses: 'She was a [pause] WONDERFULLY [pause] special person.'"
    (Arthur Plotnik, Spunk & Bite. Random House, 2005

Using Brackets Inside Parentheses

  • "Use brackets to enclose parenthetical or explanatory material that occurs within material that is already enclosed within parentheses:
    We decided to reject the bid from Gulf Industries International. (Actually the bid [$58,000] was tempting because it was far below our estimate and because Gulf Industries usually does good work.)"
    (Stephen R. Covey, Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication, 5th ed. FT Press and Pearson Education, 2012)

    Using Brackets With Sic

    • "Use brackets around the italicized word sic (from Latin, meaning 'thus,' or 'thus it is,' or 'that's the way the cookie actually crumbled') to indicate that an error or peculiarity in a quotation is being reproduced exactly as it was originally said or written:
    "I think the way we's [sic] educating our young people is just fine," boasted the school superintendent.

    "It's not fine," said one angry mother. "My kid's in fifth grade, and he barely knows that four and three equalizes nine [sic]."
    • On those (hopefully) very rare occasions when you want or need to use parentheses within parentheses, use brackets instead."(Richard Lederer and John Shore, Comma Sense. St. Martin's Press, 2005)
    • "Mr. Bumble said 'a ass' not 'an ass' in Oliver Twist. . . . [In a quotation, one] option might have been 'The law is a[n] ass,' although this would have carried the condescending tone of a 'sic' flag, implying we're smarter than Dickens." (Blair Shewchuk, "Quibbling Over Quotes." CBC News Online, April 23, 2004)

    Pronunciation: BRAK-et

    From the Latin, "breeches"