‘B’ is for brackets

BletterMy reference for this blog is The Cambridge Guide to English Usage by Pam Peters. Brackets come in various types for a host of different jobs. The most common brackets, of course, are the ones referred to with the fancy word Parentheses ( ) or simply “round brackets”. These enclose the parenthesis or parenthetical comment which basically breaks down to an aside that is inserted into a sentence but is not needed for the sentence to make sense. However, the comment may add some useful information about the topic discussed immediately before the opening bracket. A pair of commas or dashes can also be used instead of the brackets in many instances. The guide goes into the debate about the use of these forms, but I will try to keep it as simple as possible in this blog.

Parentheses (besides being used like this) can also be applied to:

* enclose optional additions to a word, when the author wants to allow for alternative interpretations or applications of a statement. For example: The topic(s) for the assignment will be discussed in class. Note that in this instance there is no space between the word and the optional “s”.

* enclose numbers or enumerative letters (letters used instead of a number). Within text they will have brackets on either side: (1), (2) etc., but in the margin the second bracket is enough: a)

* enclose a whole sentence which forms a parenthesis within a paragraph.

* provide for author-date references.

The second type of brackets are square brackets [ ] which are conventionally used in prose to indicate editorial additions to the text, whether they explain, correct, or just comment on it. Square brackets are also used in mathematics and in linguistics.

Another form of brackets in use with maths and linguistics are braces { } or simply “curly brackets”.  I will not go into detail about these forms of brackets as they are not usually seen in general prose writing.

Slash brackets / /, also called diagonal brackets or “slashes” are commonly used to separate numbers in a date. They also find a place in linguistics.

One form of brackets that I am not familiar with is the Angle bracket 〈 〉, which (you guessed it!) is used in maths and linguistics.

Punctuation in association with brackets (parentheses) depends on the structure of the sentence around it. If the sentence would usually have a comma after the word immediately before the inserted comment, then the comma will be placed immediately after the closing bracket. Similarly, if the sentence ends immediately before the inserted comment, then the full stop will appear immediately after the closing bracket. However, if the bracketed comment stands as an independent sentence, then it will occur after the full stop, and in this instance contain a full stop just before the closing bracket. (I hope you are not confused.)

The other thing to remember about the comment within the bracket is that the first word will be in lower case unless (as in my example above) it is a standalone sentence, or it contains the title or name of something that would normally be capped.

You have now completed my crash course on brackets.


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