Brackets: When to Use Brackets in Writing (Examples)

By Carly Forsaith, updated on June 1, 2023

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.

In short:

  • Brackets are punctuation marks used within direct quotations to show edits, comments, or further explanation.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

When to Use Brackets

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.

  • Parentheses are curly ( )
  • Brackets have angles [ ]

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.

To Explain or Comment in a Direct Quotation

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]"

To Correct or Change Words in a Direct Quotation

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.

To Replace Parentheses Within Parentheses

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).

Punctuation With Brackets

Using punctuation in and around brackets follows the same rules as using punctuation with parentheses. And it's pretty straightforward:

Concluding Thoughts on Brackets

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:

  • Brackets are a form of punctuation always used in pairs.
  • Use brackets to explain, comment, correct, or change words within direct quotes.
  • You can also use brackets to replace parentheses within parentheses.

If you found this article helpful, you might like our Grammar Book, a free online database full of grammar articles just like this one. Check it out!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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