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The Use of Brackets and Braces in Written English

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 11/29/2013

Punctuation marks are a convention of written language that make reading more easily understandable. Brackets and braces are used in seven basic ways in the English language. Also included is a printable reference sheet.

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    Braces and Brackets

    Like all other punctuation marks, brackets and braces clarify written language by separating additional information from the main clause of a sentence. Brackets and braces perform seven basic functions in written English.

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    Brackets for Clarification

    1. Use brackets to provide clarification within quotation marks. For example:English 

    • According to a recent study on Internet usage, college students are "more likely to use it [the Internet] to find sources than academic journals."
    • My mom said, "She [my little sister] cannot use the car on Saturday."
    • And I quote, "You [new students] must attend at least one orientation session."
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    Brackets with Parentheses

    2. Use brackets to enclose parenthetical information inside of parenthetical information. For example:

    • The author (Andrew Jones [1922-1978] was also an illustrator) won numerous awards for his writing.
    • Summaries of all articles (including the article on phrasal verbs [verb-particle constructions]) must be written before the next class.
    • (Mary Smith [the mother] bestowed a most unusual name on her daughter.)

    For more information about the uses of parentheses, please see The Use of Dashes and Parentheses in Written English.

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    Brackets to Indicate Errors in Quotations

    3. Use brackets around the abbreviated Latin expression [sic] meaning "thus" to indicate errors in quotations. For example:

    • The President declared, "Our country is more great [sic] than our enemies."
    • As the woman wrote, "The situation is much to [sic] dangerous to handle without help."
    • "A journey of a thousand mile [sic] starts with a single step."
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    Brackets to Revise Quotations

    4. Use brackets to indicate revisions in quotations. For example:

    • "They indicate strong emotion." "[Exclamation marks] indicate strong emotion."
    • "But they also do other jobs..." "But [quotation marks] also do other jobs..."
    • "They tell readers when to pause..." "[Commas] tell readers when to pause..."
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    Brackets with Word Origin

    5. Use brackets to enclose information about word origin. For example:

    • dictionary [L.]
    • grammar [OF.]
    • strategic [F.]
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    Braces with Numeric Sets

    6. Use braces to denote numeric sets. For example:

    • {1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13}
    • {2, 4, 6, 8, 10}
    • {1, 2, 3}
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    Braces to Indicate Choices

    7. Use braces to indicate sets of equal and independent choices. For example:

    • Choose your favorite animal {dog, cat, bird} to feed a treat.
    • After selecting your main dish {beef, chicken, pork, fish}, choose a vegetable.
    • Choose a wine {white, rose, red} or a juice {apple, grape, orange}.

    Braces are not commonly used in formal writing.

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    Printable Download

    The accompanying printable reference sheet is available for download at The Use of Brackets and Braces in Written English Reference Sheet.

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