[ ] Brackets, known by that term in the US and as square brackets in the UK, come in pairs and enclose a stretch of text. Generally, they are used to indicate added text that explains or comments on something in a sentence.
[ ] Brackets / Square Brackets
What are brackets?
The punctuation marks […], as opposed to parentheses (…), show that something has been added to or omitted from a quotation or cited sentence—the material within the brackets is often an explanation or a comment on something in the original quotation.
When to use brackets
They may be used when a writer wants to explain or comment on something in a quotation.
- “Willie Mays [inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979] began his professional career in 1947.”
- “The history of all hitherto existing society [by this Marx meant written history] is the history of class struggle.”
- “The Toyota RAV4 [see our full review in the May issue] continues its run as a popular small SUV.”
- “A meal at that restaurant will cost you $100 [90 euros].”
- “This year, we plan to expand the zoo [with new animal displays],” the director said.
- “The Beijing Metro [don’t try to board at rush hour unless you like being squashed!] is one of the world’s busiest transportation systems.”
- “Jean-Luc Godard [still active although he is almost 90 years old] was a key figure in the French cinematic movement known as the New Wave.”
- “Teresa Teng [traditional Chinese: 鄧麗君] was among the most popular singers ever to have emerged from the Chinese-speaking world.”
The ellipsis in brackets—use an ellipsis (UK: ellipsis points) to show that words have been omitted from a quotation.
- “If you visit Berlin, you’ll probably want to visit the Tiergarten, a public park containing a zoo […], public gardens, and recreation areas.”
- “Mozart’s compositions include 41 symphonies, more than a dozen operas […], and numerous pieces of chamber music and keyboard music.”
You can use these marks around a single letter to modify a word in a quotation so that it will fit into a new sentence. Often this is done to remove a capital letter from a quoted sentence within another sentence.
- Ho Chi Minh famously said that “[i]t was patriotism, not communism, that inspired me.”
- When you’re having hard times, remember Winston Churchill saying that “[i]f you’re going through hell, keep going.”
This usage is restricted to formal writing, where exact reproduction of a quotation is important. In informal writing, you can simply use the lowercase letter.
The expression “sic” (Latin for “just as”) is often used in brackets to show that an error in a quotation appears in the original text rather than resulting from an error by the writer.
- The oil was stored in 55-galon [sic] drums that later were discarded and had their tops turned into musical instruments.
Brackets / Square Brackets Infographic
Learn more with useful punctuation rules on how to use parentheses and quotation marks in English with examples and infographics.
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