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When to Use Parentheses vs. Brackets in Your Writing

Brackets are punctuation marks used in writing and mathematics to enclose words, numbers, or symbols. The purpose of brackets is to separate the enclosed words and figures from the rest of the sentence or equation.

Beth Taylor
Beth Taylor

Brackets are punctuation marks used in writing and mathematics to enclose words, numbers, or symbols. The purpose of brackets is to separate the enclosed words and figures from the rest of the sentence or equation.

Parentheses and Brackets

The word “brackets” can mean two different things. Firstly, it is an umbrella term that can refer to any of the four different kinds of brackets. Secondly, it can be used as the name for one specific kind of bracket, the square brackets. Parentheses, on the other hand, are a different thing altogether: round brackets.

Parenthesis

When thinking of brackets, the image that comes to mind is the round brackets. They are the most commonly used brackets in English writing. The singular term is a parenthesis, and the plural signifies the pair of round brackets.

Parentheses are used for afterthoughts and to add additional information to a sentence (like so). This information or afterthought is known as a “parenthesis” and should always be enclosed in brackets, dashes, or commas. The text within the parentheses is not vital to the sentence. Therefore if it is removed the sentence remains grammatically correct. We can also put a whole sentence in parentheses, as long as this sentence isn’t essential to the original sentence. Punctuation should be used in the original sentence rather than within the parentheses, except for full sentences, which require capitalization and a full stop.

Examples of Words in Brackets

Johannes, the boy from South Africa, sat next to me in class today.
I ate the ice cream (which was delicious) in less than 5 minutes.
I walked my dog for an hour last night. (I didn’t realize we had been walking for so long.)
My friend Laura (whose mum is a dentist) is going on vacation all summer.
We went to watch a soccer match last weekend. (Our team won!)

Brackets

In American English, the word “brackets” refers to square brackets, also known as box brackets. We use these for edits to a text. For example, editorial comments, corrections, or additional information about quotations make them easier to understand.

They [the girls in the band] used to bicker all the time on tour.
She bought an F8 [Ferrari F8 Tributo] with her inheritance.

Other Types of Brackets

As well as brackets and parentheses, there are two other brackets that you may need to be familiar with.

The first is angle brackets or “chevrons,” which can be used to add comments, for example, an aside thought. You will rarely see single-angle brackets as they are usually used in double pairs. In many languages, double chevrons are used as quotation marks.

The second kind of bracket is curly brackets, sometimes called “braces,” which are used when you want to provide a list of choices to the reader.

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Beth Taylor

Hello! My name is Beth. I'm from France. I'm a French and English native speaker and I really like writing.


Milena Lazova

I'm an ESL teacher with over 7 years of experience in providing original content. I really like writing educational articles which may help others learn some aspects of English.

Valentina Dordevic

Hello! My name is Valentina. Book digesting is my specialty. I transform book ideas into easy-to-follow summaries, articles, study guides, reviews, essays, analyses, slides, or e-books.

Cecilia Gigliotti

I have extensive experience writing in a variety of genres, from literary novels to music reviews to academic articles. I appreciate the power of words.