How To Use Brackets In An Essay

Of the fourteen different punctuation marks in English, learning how to use a bracket in grammar should be one of the easiest. Punctuation marks are a basic part of English grammar and must be understood. This particular punctuation mark has very limited usage in academic writing. Writers use brackets to add information to a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. This means that the writer can add words if necessary to make the sentence read more clearly or add a correction or comment to quoted material. 

Brackets By Any Other Name

There are a few different types of symbols that can technically be considered brackets. Each pair of marks has its own rules for academic use. Outside of academic writing, they may all be interchangeable with few repercussions.


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Check out the YourDictionary Punctuation Jungle infographic for an easy-to-understand visual explanation of brackets.

Parentheses or round brackets ( )

The most commonly used bracket in English is the parentheses. This pair of round brackets is used when a writer wants to add information to a sentence that will give greater detail to the information presented. However, the information is extra and not really necessary, which means that it can be removed with ease and without damaging the original information. Items placed in parentheses can often be set off with commas as well.

Sentence examples using parentheses:

  • George Washington (the first president of the United States) gave his farewell address in 1796. (In this sentence, the parentheses is giving additional information about George Washington.)
  • NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) launched its first Mars probe (Viking I) back in 1976. (In this sentence, the parentheses is explaining what NASA stands for and giving additional information about the Mars probe.)
  • Task representations can sometimes differ between student and instructor (Flower, 1994) and even from novice student to more experienced student.  (In this sentence, the information in parentheses is a citation for a book written in APA format. Similar types of line references are used other citation systems as well.)

Square brackets ( [ ] )

Square brackets have important usage in academic writing, especially when the writer needs to add information to a quotation. Normally, a quotation must be presented exactly as it was spoken or written. The square bracket allows the writer an opportunity to fix mistakes, add explanatory information, change a quote to fit in a sentence, or add emphasis to a word through bold or italics. Similar to the parentheses, the information in the bracket cannot alter the meaning of the quoted material.

Example of square bracket use in grammar:

  • “Books used [in classes] show methods of finding information but not much information in preparation of the review [italics added]” (Libutti & Kopala, 1995, p. 15).

In this example, the words “in classes” do not appear in the original quotation but the writer wanted to add this information to make the sentence read more clearly. To add emphasis a set of words, italics were added by the writer that were not there in the original quote.

Angled brackets  ( < > )

Angled brackets have very limited use in writing. They primarily set off highlighted material. The most common use for angled brackets is for placing URLs (Universal Resource Locator) into text. 

Examples of Angled brackets:

  • Fishman, Stephen M., and Lucille Parkinson McCarthy. John Dewey and the Challenge of Classroom Practice. The Practitioner Inquiry Series. New York Urbana, Ill.: Teachers College Press, National Council of Teachers of English, 1998. Web.
  • This is an example of an MLA citation. While MLA rules no longer require URLs to be presented due to their ever changing status, many professors may still require students to include the URL. If this is the case, then the web address needs to be set between a pair of angled brackets.

Braces or curly brackets ( { } )

This mark has extremely limited usage and mostly for poetry or music. An exception to this would be if a writer wanted to create a list of items that are all equal choices. Otherwise, this punctation mark would not be used in academic writing.

Brackets Have Purpose

In all of these examples, the brackets set off, add emphasis or further explain information presented to a reader. The different brackets all have slightly different functions and overall limited usage in academic writing, but learning how to use a bracket in grammar is as easy as recognizing and marking the extra information in a sentence.

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How to Use a Bracket in Grammar

By YourDictionary

Of the fourteen different punctuation marks in English, learning how to use a bracket in grammar should be one of the easiest. Punctuation marks are a basic part of English grammar and must be understood. This particular punctuation mark has very limited usage in academic writing. Writers use brackets to add information to a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. This means that the writer can add words if necessary to make the sentence read more clearly or add a correction or comment to quoted material. 

Round Brackets

Round brackets (also called parentheses, especially in American English) are mainly used to separate off information that isn’t essential to the meaning of the rest of the sentence. If you removed the bracketed material the sentence would still make perfectly good sense. For example:

Mount Everest (in the Himalayas) is the highest mountain in the world.

There are several books on the subject (see page 120).

He coined the term "hypnotism" (from the Greek word hypnos meaning "sleep") and practiced it frequently.

They can also be used to enclose a comment by the person writing:

He’d clearly had too much to drink (not that I blamed him).

Square Brackets

Square brackets (also called brackets, especially in American English) are mainly used to enclose words added by someone other than the original writer or speaker, typically in order to clarify the situation:

He [the police officer] can’t prove they did it.

If parentheses or brackets are used at the end of a sentence, the period should be placed outside, as the final punctuation:

They eventually decided to settle in the United States (Debbie's home).

Dante testified that it was the last time he saw them [the missing coins].

 

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