If you want to know what brackets are and how to use them, this article is what you need. Read on to learn everything you need to know to use them correctly in your writing.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
So, first of all, what are brackets? They're often confused with parentheses because they look similar and are also used in pairs. However, they aren't used in the same ways.
As I mentioned, they're used in pairs. You'll have an opening bracket at the beginning of the text and a closing bracket at the end.
Now let's get into when you should use them. As you'll learn, they're mainly used when dealing with quoted text.
When quoting something or someone, sometimes you might want to add a comment, clarify something omitted, or further explain something in your own words. To do this, you can use brackets.
Here is an example:
She said that "they arrived [at the restaurant] to find there were no free tables."
Because this is a direct quote, you can't change it to say, "They arrived at the restaurant." You must put "at the restaurant" in brackets to show that you added these words yourself. And why did you add them? To provide further clarification for the reader; otherwise, they might not understand where they arrived.
Here's another example:
According to the author, "they're [sic] bedrooms were larger than my whole house."
In the sentence above, 'they're' is a misspelling of 'their.' But since it's a direct quotation, you must type it exactly as it was written by the author. By using the word 'sic' in brackets, you're showing that you acknowledge the spelling error.
Here's one more example, this time where the bracketed text serves to translate the Latin text:
My mum always says "Carpe diem [seize the day]"
Sometimes when you're reporting speech, you might need to amend a letter or word here or there to ensure your sentence is grammatically correct.
Look at the following sentence, for example:
Sophie said, "All the managers in my organization are women."
Imagine if you wanted to quote this sentence using direct speech. You'd have to make a few changes, and it would look something like this:
Sophie said that "[a]ll the managers in [her] organization are women."
The uppercase 'a' in 'all' has been changed to lowercase, so it should be bracketed. Equally, the 'my' has been changed to 'her,' so you can put that in brackets too.
If you need to use parentheses in a piece of text that's already in parentheses, you can bracket it instead. This is the one time when you can use brackets outside of the quoted text.
I always study in the library (the MR [multimedia room] is always too busy).
Using punctuation in and around brackets follows the same rules as using punctuation with parentheses. And it's pretty straightforward:
So there you have it. Now you know when and how to use brackets. As you can see, it's pretty easy!
Let's summarize what we've learned:
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