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In Punctuation, How Are Brackets Used?

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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2016
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In the English language, punctuation brackets are usually added to a document for the purposes of showing readers that a writer or editor added to an original text. There are several different uses of brackets that are common in English. Brackets are not to be confused with parentheses, which are curved lines meant to include items that are written as less important or peripheral elements of a story, narrative or other document.

One of the main uses for brackets in English punctuation is to show that a writer had to add an ellipsis, or a series of dots, within a quoted statement. For example, if a line of text includes something like “he said that the task[…]included rendering graphics,” the ellipsis can effectively allow the writer to leave out any inconsequential words unrelated to the item that is being referenced. Here, the brackets show that the writer took the words out and put the ellipsis in; using the ellipsis without the brackets would indicate that the ellipsis was a part of the original quote.

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Another use of brackets in English punctuation is to make a clarification between of the use of pronouns. Sometimes, speakers will use pronouns, but when a writer records their speech, readers don’t understand the subject because they are not familiar with what the speaker is talking about. Here, the writer may bracket proper noun to show that the speaker did not reference the name, but that it was added later. For example, if someone writes: “He [Jimmy] stood up next and spoke,” he or she is indicating that the real quote did not include the name, but that this was added to help orient the reader.

A third use of this kind of punctuation relates to errors in a spoken or written statement that may be recorded by a third party writer. Any time that a writer uses written or spoken testimony from someone else, he or she may notice grammatical errors, spelling errors, or other kinds of problems in a sentence or phrase. Here, the writer may use brackets, along with the Latin word sic to show that a written error was original. For example, if the text includes “and your [sic] going to go there,” the writer is using the bracketed item to show that he did not fix a significant error having to do with the difference between “your” and “you’re.” In other cases, the writer may simply fix the mistake, but generally, this is against certain journalistic, and/or academic protocol, which necessitates the use of the bracketed phrase.

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