Identifying and using brackets

Brackets and parentheses are used infrequently to separate a set of characters, a word, phrase or a sentence from those on either side.

These punctuation marks show the reader the fine details. They allow the reader to hear what the author would have said if the text was being read aloud. Brackets (parentheses) are punctuation markers used to enclose an explanatory word, phrase or sentence, an aside or a commentary, for example 'She was referring to her friend (Shirley) again'. If you remove the information that is inside the parentheses, the sentence must still make sense.

The two most commonly used forms are round brackets (parentheses) ( ) and square brackets [ ].

Full stops, question marks or exclamation marks are usually put outside the brackets (unless the brackets enclose a complete sentence).

Square brackets [ ]

Square Brackets are placed around extra information in a text; and are typically used for editorial comments, corrections, and clarifications. Square brackets can also be used to add something into a sentence that was taken out by the writer.

For example, original sentence:

She drove 60 on the highway to town.

This could mean 60 miles per hour, 60 kilometres per hour or 60 miles per hour in which case the editor may clarify which using square brackets [60 kilometres per hour].


Brackets (parentheses) have a variety of functions and are used by writers to:

Clarify meaning by providing a comment or additional information and separate information that isn't essential to the meaning of the rest of the sentence.

  • I will meet John (who went to school with me).
  • ... spent rockets, redundant satellites (over 200!), metal fragments (many of which are the results of collisions) ...

Introduce an acronym or abbreviation, or the expansion of an acronym, which will be used independently later in the text.

  • ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) has developed syllabus documents for Australia.
  • The Assistant Principal (AP) provides support to the grade.

Enclose the name and date of a letter to the editor or an article that a writer is responding to

  • The article ('Plummeting Penguin Numbers', 13/1/96) signified a dramatic shift ...

Enclose optional additions

  • Students must bring pen(s), pencil(s) and writing paper with them.

Indicate an aside or comment revealing a character's point of view in narratives

  • He called me shorty (he should talk!) and then offered to stack the top shelves.

Indicate in quotes the insertion of a word, prefix, suffix or capitalisation in order to fit the quote into the sentence so it will flow.

  • My “add(ing) curry powder to taste' was different to everyone else's taste.“
  • (T)he former vice president's accusations of criminal behaviour against ...

Use brackets around the italicised word sic (from Latin, meaning 'thus,' or 'thus it is,') to indicate that an error or peculiarity in a quotation is being reproduced exactly as it was originally said or written:

  • I love youse (sic) all!

Use brackets around in text lists (numbers):

  • Here are the rules: (1) Keep your room tidy, (2) do your homework, (3) be ready for school on time.
  • Phone number additions and clarification (02) 5555 5555

Use brackets to enclose figures following and confirming written-out numbers, especially in legal and business documents:

  • The fee for my services will be two thousand dollars ($2,000.00).

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: models

Students use the following examples to take a line of text from the text they are currently studying to create sentences similar to the structure.

Remember the three main components of a strong paragraph (topic statement, support, conclusion) when writing your final assignments.

Mr. Fly explained that the three characters (Harry, Hermione and Ron) were integral to the novel.

Mr. Fly compared the writing of J.K. Rowling to that of other famous writers (J.R.R. Tolkien, C.C. Lewis and Ursula Le Guin) who wrote fantasy novels.

Activity 2

Ask students to collect examples of the ways in which brackets are used to clarify communication in each of their subjects and contribute these to a display or collection which could later be used for discussion by the class.


Australian curriculum

ACELA1544: Understand the use of punctuation conventions including colons, semicolons, dashes and brackets in formal and informal texts.

NSW syllabus

EN4-3B: Makes effective language choices to creatively shape meaning with accuracy, clarity and coherence.

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