When to Use Brackets and Parentheses Examples

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Want to know when to use punctuation brackets or parentheses in English writing? Teachers or homeschoolers may wish to use it as part of a larger series that dwells on proper punctuation in a more general sense. This guide will give students from Grades 6+ and general English learners parentheses examples, more information about punctuation brackets, and some tips and tricks for using them in their writing.

brackets and parentheses

What are Brackets?

Punctuation brackets [ ] represent just one type of punctuation in English. In fact, there are 14 ways that we can divide the usual punctuation marks used in English writing. At their most basic level, brackets usually refer to a pair of square-shaped symbols that contain part of a larger sentence. Parentheses ( ) are sometimes referred to as another type of bracket. Although we can make a separate space for these special punctuation marks, students may hear some people call them a type of bracket.

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.

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.

Brackets for Quotes

For the most part, you will only use these punctuation marks when making a quote. Most people will use these punctuation marks in academic writing, and they do so to add information that is not part of the original quote without changing its historical meaning. We can look at a few examples to illustrate this.

  1. “The Minister of Education said that textbooks [in most high schools] needed serious revisions to bring them up-to-date with current events.”
  2. “A country far to the north has said that it will welcome displaced refugees [both with families and without] with open arms.”
  3. "He said that he never wanted to visit them [his parents] again."

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.

Brackets for Capitalizing in Quotes

If you want to capitalize the first letter of a chosen quote that isn't capitalized in the original, you can add a bracket, as long as the sentence is not a broken sentence. This shows the reader that you've changed the original quote.

  1. In a Room With a View by E.M Foster, he writes, “[C]hoose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”
  2. In A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, Ned tells his younger daughter, "[T]he lone wolf dies, but the pack survives."
  3. In The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, she says, "[H]er laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering."

Punctuation Brackets for Omitting Information

Say you want to show the reader that you've removed or omitted information in a quote, especially in the middle of it. In this case, you would add an ellipsis between the square brackets. [...]

  1. "Don't waste your time,[...] life is too short to be unhappy." Roy T.Bennett.
  2. "You are enough [...] as you are." Meghan Markle.
  3. "You are the author of your own story, [...] it's okay to start a new one." Brit and Co.

What does [sic] mean?

What does sic in brackets mean? You may have seen [sic] in brackets used in quotations. When used in quotes, [sic] means that the original quotation had an error or misspelling. The person quoting is acknowledging that this happened. When put directly after an error, sic should be in italics like this, [sic]. It is actually a Latin word that means "so" or "thus."

When to Use Parentheses ( )

Parentheses (plural) and a parenthesis (singular) are punctuation marks used in writing to set aside extra or unnecessary information. Typically, they complement explanations, provide personal commentary, or define acronyms. If you take them away, the sentence should still make sense. Parentheses are also used for in-text citations in the APA, Chicago, and MLA style guides.

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 a parenthesis punctuation mark ( ). 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.

  1. Your GPA (grade point average) is a big factor that helps you determine which colleges to attend. (extra information)
  2. 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. (extra information)
  3. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is an independent agency of the United States government that is responsible for a civil space program, space research, and the field of research for aeronautics. (defining an acronym)
  4. Pink (born Alecia Beth Moore) is an iconic American singer and activist. (extra information)
  5. Sally promised me she'd pay me back by tomorrow. (Yeah, right!) (personal commentary)

Parentheses for Singular and Plural Words

Sometimes, if a word could be either singular or plural, we add an s in parentheses at the end.

  1. Any question(s) you have can be answered on the next page.
  2. Any book(s) to be returned should be given by next week.

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.


Want to recap or test your understanding? See if you can answer the question and then flip the flashcard.


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 or closing symbol. 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 understanding a sentence.