Brackets – how to use them

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Brackets – definition

brackets Brackets are used to show that a word or phrase has been inserted into a sentence.

redbtn The technical name for this device is a ‘parenthesis’.

  • Most of the suspects (seven in all) were questioned by the police.
  • Put your scrap paper (or cardboard) into the dustbin.
  • The next person to arrive (a very attractive woman) caused a sensation.


redbtn The words inserted between brackets are usually an explanation, an illustration, or an aside.

redbtn They often carry the meaning ‘that is to say’.

redbtn NB! Brackets are always used in pairs. Once they are ‘open’, don’t forget to close them.

redbtn Round brackets are used to represent an aside or an extra piece of information which is closely related to the main subject of the sentence.

Goodwin argues that Thompson’s policies (which he clearly dislikes) would only increase the problem.

redbtn Square brackets are used to indicate that something
is being added by the author. This is usually for clarification or comment.

The reporter added that the woman [Mrs Wood] had suffered severe injuries.

A mother wrote that her son was ‘fritened [sic] to go to school’.

redbtn When brackets are used at the end of a sentence, the full stop falls outside the bracket (like this).

redbtn Statements inside brackets should be grammatically separate from the sentence. That is, the sentence should be complete, even if the contents of the brackets are removed.

The republican senator (who was visiting London for a minor operation) also attended the degree ceremony.

redbtn If a quotation contains a mistake in the original you can indicate that the error is not your own. This is indicated by the use of square brackets.

The senior government minister who was recently acquitted of kerb-crawling claimed that at long last his ‘trails [sic] and tribulations’ were at an end.

redbtn The expressions within brackets should be kept as brief as possible, so as not to interrupt the flow of the sentence.

redbtn The use of brackets should be kept to a minimum. If used too frequently, they create a choppy, unsettling effect.

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2003

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