Brackets, Braces, and Parentheses

Actually, there are four different types of brackets. In this lesson, we will study all the rules about these punctuation marks.

What Are Brackets, Braces, and Parentheses in English?

What Are Brackets?

Brackets are punctuation marks that are used to enclose words, phrases, or information that is added to a sentence. There are four different types of brackets: [ ] are called square brackets, { } are called curly brackets or braces, < > are called angle brackets, and ( ) are round brackets or parentheses.

Square Brackets: Functions

Square brackets [ ] can be used for the following purposes:

  • to add ideas to an original text
  • for clarification
  • to add extra information
  • to indicate words that have been left out or misspelled
  • to add information within parentheses

To Add Idea to an Original Text

Brackets can let you add your ideas or opinions to the original text. For example:

She [the sister of the girl] was feeling jealous.

Here, the writer has not mentioned the information. This was added by another person.

We need the house [his childhood house] to be rebuilt.

For clarification

Let's go through an example for this one:

She [my mother] didn't like my idea about not going to college .

We make it clear in the brackets who is meant by "she".

Pinocchio [the wooden boy] was played by Pitter Nyao.

To add extra information

When we want to add extra information about something in our sentence we can use brackets, for example:

All the ingredients [salt, pepper, garlic powder, and turmeric] must be added at the same time.

He was going to order his favorite sandwich [zucchini and cheese].

To Indicate Words That Have Been Left Out or Misspelled

When a word is misspelled or omitted by the writer, we can use brackets to correct it. For instance:

She has [a] good idea.

The "a" was left out from the sentence.

I want to leave [sic] for ever.

We use [sic] to show that the writer has misspelled the word, here we know the writer meant to write "live" and not leave.

To Add Information Within Parentheses

Sometimes we want to add information within parentheses, we can use brackets.

The boxes contain all my stuff (my shoes, my dresses [formal ones], and my bags)

It (World's Health Organization [WHO]) has warned people of the new virus.

Parentheses: Functions

Parentheses usually contain extra information that is not essential to the sentence. Thus, the sentence should still make sense if we omit the parentheses. Also, keep in mind that we are not allowed to put more than one paragraph inside parentheses. Let’s check some other functions of parentheses:

  • to give more information
  • to show personal opinions/comments
  • for abbreviation
  • to set off numbers and letters
  • to give options
  • in academic papers

To Give More Information

Using parentheses to give more information

We can give information inside parentheses. This piece of information can either be important or extra information. Omitting this information should not change the meaning of our sentence. These are the examples:

The doctors did what was possible (they couldn't help more than this)\.

We spent the whole night in a camping tent (cold and wet).

To Show Personal Opinions/Comments

We can use parentheses to express our opinions or ideas without changing the original text.

Most people like to go for a jog in the mornings (I don't), which is very healthy.

He said he will stop chasing his dream (he wouldn't dare) and just do whatever job they offer him.

For Abbreviations

We can use parentheses to give the full form of the abbreviation or vice versa:

The UN (United Nations) decided to postpone the meeting.

He said visiting New York city (NYC) was his dream.

To Set Off Numbers and Letters

When listing items, we usually use numbers or letters to separate the items. In this case, they are put inside parentheses. Here are a few examples:

Remember to take: (1) towel (2) tooth brush (3) hair brush.

The reasons why Andy loves Mary so much: (a) she is smart (b) she is brave (c) she is beautiful.


Both brackets and parentheses can be used to give additional information. The only difference between them is that when we use brackets there is almost always an indirect or direct speech. But when we use parentheses there is a piece of general information. For example:

Sarah said she would talk to Mr. Johnson [the manager].

There were fifteen dead people (because of choking).

To Give Options

We can use parentheses to indicate that the word can be singular or plural.

Keep your shoe(s) away from the white carpet.

In Academic Papers

We can also use parentheses to cite our sources in academic papers.

This issue is very common in the discipline (Gile, 1995).

Braces: Functions

Braces are usually used in mathematics and science. They can also fulfill the function of brackets and parentheses but this is not common. They are usually used with the name of substances or with numbers. Here are the examples:

2{1 + [32 + 3]}


Here are some other functions of braces:

  • making lists of options

Which one would you like to eat {ice cream, pizza, bread and cheese or rice}?

  • to make a list of chords in music
  • to make a list of numbers and sets in math

Angle brackets: Functions

Angle brackets < > are sometimes called chevrons. This punctuation is rarely used in writing. We can find them mostly in mathematics or computer programming.

What do they do?

In some languages, this punctuation is used instead of quotation marks. In English, they are used to set aside information (although most writers use parentheses for this purpose), introduce websites, or when something is spoken in a foreign language. We should know that these are used very rarely even in informal writings.

  • Set aside information

My dog is drowning again <<I don't know why it keeps jumping in the pool>>.

Writers use double pair of angle brackets to set aside information.

  • In comic books they are used to show that a foreign language is being spoken

Australian guy : Excuse me where is the library?

French boy : << what is he saying?>>

French girl : << I don't know. Maybe he wants some money?>>

  • To introduce websites

For more information, you can read the article in <>


Brackets are categorized into four groups.

  • square brackets [ ]
  • curly brackets or braces { }
  • round bracket or parentheses ( )
  • angle brackets < >


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