Punctuation: Parentheses and Brackets: Bosom Buddies

Parentheses and Brackets: Bosom Buddies

Like hot dogs and heartburn, parentheses and brackets always come in pairs. But unlike tube steaks and burps, parentheses and brackets are not at all the same.

  • These are parentheses: ( )
  • These are brackets: [ ]

You use parentheses much more often than you use brackets. Follow these rules for using these marks of punctuation correctly.


Use parentheses to set off nonessential information. In essence, the information in the parentheses is a nonessential modifier; it gives the reader additional information that's by no means crucial.

  • Use parentheses to enclose additional information in a sentence.
  • Example: Isn't a thesaurus an ancient reptile with an excellent vocabulary (see Chapter 16)?
  • Use parentheses to enclose numbers or letters.
  • Example: Recipe for a great day: (1) Drive to the mall; (2) Whip out the charge card; (3) Shop 'til you drop.


Use brackets for editorial clarification. And editorial clarification only.

  • Use brackets to enclose a comment that interrupts a direct quotation.
  • Example: She said, “I helped Richard with his memos [in fact, she wrote them all] when he was pressed for time.”
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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