Adding Extras Using Brackets or Parentheses

This guide can teach students about how and when to use brackets or parentheses in English writing. Teachers may wish to use it as part of a larger series that dwells on the proper use of punctuation in a more general sense. We’ve structured this guide using content and verbiage that should be understandable to students at most grade levels. This would include students in the elementary, middle, or high school age ranges. In order to make the rules regarding brackets easy to understand, we will use some concrete examples that show these punctuation marks in their proper roles. Some of the language we use here may seem simple, but it will help teachers ensure that any students they teach should be able to grasp the key concepts we lay out here.

brackets and parentheses

What Are Brackets?

Brackets represent just one type of punctuation in English. In fact, there are 14 ways that we can divide the usual punctuation marks that we use in English writing. However, a bracket can refer to one of several slightly different types of punctuation students might encounter in their classes. At their most basic level, brackets usually refer to a pair of square-shaped symbols that contain part of a larger sentence. Students will see what these symbols look like as we progress through different examples throughout the text here.

However, it is not uncommon to refer to parentheses as another type of brackets. Although we can make a separate space for these special punctuation marks, students may hear some people call them a type of bracket. Similarly, the traditional square shape we referenced earlier can take on a couple of other forms. We will go through each of these in different sections below, noting some of the best cases in which to use one or the other.

In writing, we use a bracket pair to include additional information within a piece of text. Usually, this information might be helpful in some way, but the writer does not consider it an essential part of the main body of work. In other words, you could cut out the words you find in between the brackets. If you did, the overall meaning of the rest of the text would not change, and readers would still get the information they needed in order to form the proper context. However, these punctuation marks do add some necessary clarity at times.

When To Use Brackets

We will start with some rules, use cases, and examples of the standard square-shaped bracketed pairs you might find in writing. For the most part, you will only use these punctuation marks when you need to make a quote. In some cases, you may put them inside a part of a sentence that already uses parentheses. Most people will use these marks in academic writing, and they do so to add information that is not part of a quote to it without changing its historical meaning. We can look at a few examples to illustrate this.

  • “The Minister of Education said that textbooks [in most high schools] needed serious revisions to bring them up-to-date with current events.”
  • “A country far to the north has said that it will welcome displaced refugees [both with families and without] with open arms.”

The above sentences are not necessarily historical quotes. Rather, they are examples that should read like newspaper headlines. We’ve crafted them to show how and when one might use traditional brackets in such a quote. In the first example, the Minister of Education did not specify that they were speaking about high school textbooks. Rather, the writer or reporter added this information to make it clear that the individual was not talking about texts at all grade levels. Similarly, the country in the second example didn’t specify anything about families in its press release. Instead, the writer added this information to make the stance clearer.

Additional Information in Parentheses Examples

If the information a writer wishes to add is truly not essential for the reader to understand the basic meaning, the writer will use these punctuation marks. In fact, this punctuation mark tends to be the most common one among the bracket pairs you can find in English. Let’s take a look at a couple of parentheses examples.

  • Your GPA (grade point average) is a big factor that helps you determine which colleges to attend.
  • There were two United States presidents named Roosevelt. However, only Franklin (the 32nd person to hold this office) won the title a total of four times.

In the first example, the author explains what the acronym ‘GPA’ stands for by spelling out the full name inside these marks. In the second, the writer wants to explain how many presidents came before Roosevelt by the time he took office. A good way for students to recognize whether parentheses are appropriate in any sentence is to remove them from the part they cover. Once they do, students can offset this same information using commas. If the sentence still makes sense when you take the information in between the commas out, it is a good indication that it is okay to use parentheses marks here. This may not be the case for every sentence a student reads, but it should work for most of them.

It is important that students are aware of how to use other punctuation marks in conjunction with parentheses. In most cases, they will need to insert other marks after they complete the final bracket. An exception to this is if the information in the pair has a complete sentence in it. We can look at a couple of contrasting examples to see this more clearly.

  • I like rainy weather. (I wish it was like this more often than it was sunny.)
  • Did you see Sarah (my best friend’s sister) at the party?

The Angled Bracket

A bracket with angles is a punctuation mark that is mostly unnecessary in modern writing. However, we include it here in the interest of completeness. Today, students will mostly see these bracket pairs surrounding website addresses that pop up in the middle of standard texts.

The Curled Bracket

Again, bracketed pairs with curls have only a few uses in modern English writing. For the most part, writers will only use them in special circumstances to give details about mathematics, musical theory, or computer programs. If a writer is presenting a list of choices that are all equal to one another, they will also use these bracket pairs there.


Conclusion

Bracketed pairs are important for adding extra details that can give more clarity to one’s writing. You’ll never see these punctuation marks without an opening symbol and a closing one. Further, parentheses examples represent the most common type of this punctuation mark you’re likely to see in English writing. Authors use parentheses to clarify things, indicate singular or plural information, explain abbreviations or acronyms, and add personal comments that are not essential to the understanding of a sentence.

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