Punctuation Tip: Brackets, Braces, and Parentheses

Many people confuse brackets ([]) with parentheses (()) and braces ({}). This post is for them. I will explain where to use each, and where not to.

1. Parentheses

Parentheses are an important construction in written language. They are encountered almost everywhere, and of course appears more often than the others of the family.

All know the most important use of parentheses: to include what is really not part of a sentence, though you nonetheless want to. In this way, do neither start it with a capital nor end it with a period:

I will meet John (who went to school with me).

As seen above, the period should be part of the sentence and not the parenthesized element. However, if you are parenthesizing a whole sentence, the period also gets parenthesized just as any other punctuation to end the sentence.

I will meet John. (I remember how great buddies we were in school.)

The children were thrilled. (Bravo! We won!)

Dashes find almost similar use as parentheses; please read about various types of dashes. The difference is that em dash emphasizes the part of the sentence, while parentheses de-emphasizes it.

I will meet John—my best friend.

I will meet John (who went to school with me).

In the first sentence, the part “my best friend” is more emphasized, while in the second sentence, the part “who went to school with me” is more or less only an addition.

2. Brackets

Brackets are used alike parentheses in certain occasions, though they should not be. Many people do not understand the subtle difference between parentheses and brackets.

A bracket is used to make clear some explanation, which is not normally part of the sentence. For instance:

It was the 13th chapter of the novel [John Grisham’s The Firm] I was reading.

Here, the brackets explain what I am reading, rather than put something which could be omitted. Though parentheses can be successfully used in such situations, brackets are the best.

Use brackets to include anything normally omitted (such as a word) for good writing style.

John found Amisha in the hotel. Diana had already been with him when she [Amisha] entered.

In sentences making use of ellipsis for omission of certain words, you can use the brackets to specify the omitted part in case it causes confusion to the readers.

The school is two kilometers from the hospital, and three [kilometers from] the college.

Within certain quotations with misspellings, as per Webster guide, you can use [sic] to indicate that the misspelling or minor error. Always italicize ‘sic’, but not the brackets. ‘Sic’ means ‘that’s how it was’.

“The rescue workers found seaven [sic] children in the pit.”

However, Webster recommends to edit the misspelled words if possible.

Besides this, Webster also recommends using brackets around any word from quoted material that you emphasized with italics or underline. Within brackets, specify that you emphasized a word with italics or underline. Example:

“Evil requires the sanction of the victim,” according to Ayn Rand [Italics added].

3. Braces (Curly Brackets)

The braces ({}) as well as angle bracket (<>) do not find much use in the written language. It is more or less a mathematical symbol, and is used in certain other fields as well. However, in written language it is known to be used for specifying certain options of a particular thing. Example:

Indian freedom fighters {Sukhdev Thapar, Bhagat Singh, and Rajguru} were hanged together.


You should give care in using the appropriate punctuation mark in your writing. Incorrect usages of punctuation marks may cause confusion to the readers. Please also read some previous posts on punctuation marks.

Related Posts:

Using semicolons correctly
Using colons correctly

Books on Punctuation From Amazon:

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

13 Opinions:

  1. I found this post to be especially helpful! Thank You!

  2. Yes, very helpful indeed, thanks for posting.

  3. this was so helpful!
    i am in ESL and i really needed this thanks!


  4. Gosh, I've always wondered, and now I know how to use brackets, braces and parentheses. It may just be British English, but just to confuse matters the term bracket can also be used to refer to braces and parentheses. Also, Keith Waterhouse, in his excellent book: English Our English, says that text in brackets should not become too long. He also mentions that brackets, like dashes, can become a bad habit!

  5. Tsundere Works&#39; Moé BlogJuly 15, 2009 at 2:46 PM

    This is something that should be in high school English textbooks! Our teacher never covered this topic, as a result, when typing on the Internet, I used brackets instead of parenthesis because it's a lot faster. (For the simple reason that you don't need to hold shift when inserting a bracket.)

    Thank you for writing this helpful post.

  6. So would you say that "{option, option, option}" is equivalent to "(e.g., option, option, option)"?

  7. These tools are indeed helpful for me now that I'm already dealing with a lot of writing activities. Thanks and more power to all of you. : )

  8. Thanks Lenin!! Very helpful

  9. Hello, thanks for a great discussion. Question: how would you correct the punctuation in this sentence? Period required after the parentheses?

    I’m compelled to share a few personal convictions (perhaps I've shared enough already, right?) The points are very relevant to our discussion.


  10. It should be I'm compelled to share a few personal convictions. (Perhaps I've shared enough already, right?)


  11. "They are encountered almost everywhere, and of course appears more often than the others of the family."

    They appears?

  12. "Within certain quotations with misspellings, as per Webster guide, you can use [sic] to indicate that the misspelling or minor error."

    Part of the sentence is missing. I believe the sentence should read:
    "Within certain quotations with misspellings, as per Webster guide, you can use [sic] to indicate that the misspelling or minor error **was in the original, and not introduced by the person quoting the material.**"

    Obtained via Punctuation Tip: Brackets, Braces, and Parentheses ~ CuteWriting
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