Brackets or Parentheses? │Explore What It Is, Its Role in a Sentence and Usage with Examples

Any written language requires punctuation to make the information provided readable and meaningful. Brackets are one of the commonly used punctuation marks in the English language. Most people tend to use it loosely in their writing. To avoid any misuse and to help you comprehend its usage, this article will provide you with the meaning and definition of brackets/parenthesis, the types of brackets, what it does when used in a sentence and how to use them with examples.

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What are Brackets? – Meaning and Definition

The term ‘brackets’ refer to the vertical round lines () that come in pairs. The symbol has an opening bracket and a closing bracket, employed in sentences to provide extra or additional information about something or someone. The brackets symbol, a punctuation mark, is often used interchangeably with a pair of commas. However, it is not ideal to use brackets everywhere you see a pair of commas.

Now, if the term ‘brackets’ refers to the particular punctuation mark, then what is a parenthesis? If you look at the definitions of brackets and parentheses as provided by different dictionaries, you will be able to understand this a lot more clearly. So, here it is.

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines a bracket as “either of a pair of marks, (  ), placed around extra information in a piece of writing or part of a problem in mathematics”, and a parenthesis as “​a word, sentence, etc. that is added to a speech or piece of writing, especially in order to give extra information. In writing, it is separated from the rest of the text using brackets, commas or dashes.” However, the dictionary also provides the exact definition of brackets for parenthesis as an alternate definition. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a bracket is “either of two symbols put around a word, phrase, or sentence in a piece of writing to show that what is between them should be considered as separate from the main part”, and according to the Collins Dictionary, “parentheses are a pair of curved marks that you put around words or numbers to indicate that they are additional, separate, or less important.”

The Four Types of Brackets

There are four main types of brackets having different functions in written language. They are:

  • Round brackets or Parentheses
  • Square brackets
  • Curly brackets or Flower brackets
  • Angle brackets

Now, let us look at each of these and their functions in detail.

Round Brackets or Parentheses

The round brackets or parentheses () are the most commonly used type of brackets in the English language. The main function of these brackets is to deliver additional information about the person, place or thing that the writer is talking about. The information that is enclosed within a pair of brackets can be removed from a sentence and still make sense as they are mostly just extra information. An example of the use of round brackets/parentheses in sentences is given below.

Examples of Round Brackets/Parentheses:

  • It is better for you to follow the given instructions (unless you want to be expelled).
  • The Taj Mahal (originally built in the 17th century) is being polished as its marble structure has lost its colour due to the chemical pollution in the area.

Square Brackets

Square brackets are seen to be used more in mathematical expressions and coding languages. In the English language, square brackets are used only if you want to modify the speaker’s original words when quoting them, to add a comment or clarification or to indicate missing letters or words in the sentence. Take a look at the examples given below.

Examples of Square Brackets:

  • Derrick said, “She [the head nurse] asked us to wait here.”
  • Did my mom really say she “love[s] travelling”?
  • That is [the] point.

Curly Brackets or Flower Brackets

The curly brackets, also known as flower brackets, are mainly used in mathematical expressions, computer programming languages and in musical notation. In grammar, the use of curly brackets is limited. It is employed only to show choices within a list in a sentence.

Examples of Curly Brackets:

  • Remind me to buy detergent, soap, vegetables {onions, tomatoes, garlic, ladies finger, chillies and potatoes}, cooking oil and fruits {apples, oranges and bananas}.
  • I have invited my relatives, friends {Mazeeka, Raimy, Priyanka and Soumia} and colleagues for my son’s birthday party.

In maths, these brackets are used to represent a set and as a grouping symbol in algebraic expressions.

For example: {a, b, c, d, e} means a set that includes a, b, c, d and e

Angle Brackets

Angle brackets are purely meant to be used in coding languages and mathematical expressions. The only other use of angle brackets is to mention urls and email addresses. For example: <www.englishgrammar.com> <[email protected]> Informally, two pairs of angle brackets may be used to denote asides but writers use a pair of parentheses more often.

Are Brackets and Parentheses the Same?

A confusion between the terms – brackets and parentheses is very common. Since the terms are used synonymously, it is likely that you have a doubt about the usage of the two terms. There is nothing wrong in using them as synonyms as both refer to the same punctuation mark – the round brackets (). The only difference is that the term ‘parentheses’ is also used to refer to the word, phrase, clause or sentence that is enclosed in brackets within a sentence. The function, however, remains unchanged.

Guidelines to Use Brackets/Parentheses in Written Language

Like every other punctuation mark, the brackets symbol also has multiple functions. Making clever use of them can make your writing legible and sensible. Have a look at the following guidelines to learn how to make good use of parentheses in your writing.

  • As already discussed, the primary function of the brackets symbol is to give additional details about whatever you are discussing.
  • When abbreviations are used in sentences, the full form of the abbreviation can be enclosed within parentheses. It is also used the other way around. When mentioning it for the first time, the expanded form of the abbreviation can be followed by the abbreviation in brackets. This is mostly the case when the abbreviation has to be used multiple times in a paragraph.
  • The use of brackets can also be seen when the plural of a particular word has to be emphasised on. This would mean that one or more of that particular noun would be considered.
  • A pair of parentheses can also be used to enclose a personal comment at the end of a general statement or observation.
  • Brackets can further be used to cite in-text references in academic or research writing.
  • A comma, question mark, exclamation mark or a full stop is to be used after the closing bracket if the parenthetical reference is at the end of a sentence. Only if a complete sentence is mentioned inside the parenthesis can you use any of these punctuation marks within it.
  • In case you are providing a comment at the end of the sentence, make sure to close the bracket and then add a full stop, question mark or exclamation point to mark the end of the sentence.

Well, now that you have learnt the different functions of the punctuation mark, look at the following examples to analyse how it works.

Examples of Sentences Using Brackets/Parentheses

  • Droupadi Murmu (former Governor of Jharkhand) has taken office as the President of India.
  • The Agam band (Bangalore-based Carnatic progressive band) is playing live at the GYLT on the 5th of August.
  • WHO (World Health Organisation) has declared monkeypox as a public health emergency of international concern.
  • Being a teacher was a noble profession (not anymore).
  • Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” (As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7) is used as a theme in many movies.
  • The Civil Disobedience Movement (1930) commenced with the Dandi March.
  • Everyone was talking about yesterday’s party (Don’t even get me started.).
  • Mother Teresa (born in Skopje, Macedonia) founded the Christian Missionaries of Charity.
  • The rainfall has increased by 100 cms. (See Figure 2)
  • Betty (and her little red teddy bear) was always a delight to watch.
  • The student(s) are asked to assemble in the main auditorium by 11 a.m.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Use of Brackets/Parentheses

What is parenthesis?

The term ‘parenthesis’ refers to the vertical round brackets. It is a punctuation mark that is used in a sentence to enclose additional or otherwise unnecessary information in a sentence.

What is the definition of brackets?

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines a bracket as “either of a pair of marks, (  ), placed around extra information in a piece of writing or part of a problem in mathematics”. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a bracket is “either of two symbols put around a word, phrase, or sentence in a piece of writing to show that what is between them should be considered as separate from the main part”.

What is the use of brackets?

Brackets or parentheses are used for the following purposes.

  • To make in-text references
  • To provide the expansion of an abbreviation
  • To mention a personal comment
  • To denote a change in the original words of the speaker when quoted
  • To provide additional information
  • To represent the plural form
  • To emphasise on something

Give some examples of brackets used in sentences.

Here are a few examples of sentences using brackets/parentheses for your reference.

  • Derrick said, “She [the head nurse] asked us to wait here.”
  • Remind me to buy detergent, soap, vegetables {onions, tomatoes, garlic, ladies finger, chillies and potatoes}, cooking oil and fruits {apples, oranges and bananas}.
  • Betty (and her little red teddy bear) was always a delight to watch.
  • Did my mom really say she “love[s] travelling”?
  • Everyone was talking about yesterday’s party (Don’t even get me started.).