Grammar Use of Brackets |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Use of Brackets

Brackets are used for a number of purposes:

Use #1: Sometimes, you may wish to clarify or add to an original quote. Put words that are being added to an original quote within brackets. Always put the changes in brackets, not parentheses. This tells your readers exactly how you have altered the original.
Original: She said, “I found their services invaluable.”
Amended: She said, “I found their [IT] services invaluable.”

Use #2: Use brackets as parentheses within parentheses. You will see this with bibliographic references.
Example: (For more on the topic, see The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation [2014].)

Use #3: Use brackets to show the pronunciation of a word.
Example: He mispronounced mischievous [mis-chuh-vuhs].

Use #4: Use brackets surrounding sic and italicize it. The Latin term sic is used to indicate that something written is intentionally left in the original form, which may be incorrect.
Example: She wrote, “They made there [sic] beds.”


Pop Quiz
Place brackets where needed.

  1. (For more details on brackets, see The Chicago Manual of Style 2017.)
  2. He has difficulty correctly pronouncing nuclear noo-klee-er.
  3. The instructions read, “Be sure to tighten it’s sic lid securely.”


Pop QuizAnswers

  1. (For more details on brackets, see The Chicago Manual of Style [2017].)
  2. He has difficulty correctly pronouncing nuclear [noo-klee-er].
  3. The instructions read, “Be sure to tighten it’s [sic] lid securely.”

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

12 responses to “Use of Brackets”

  1. Mike says:

    SEE: BOTTOM OF ARTICLE -> #3. I was just reminding myself of how to properly use the words it’s and its. The word is spelled incorrectly in #3.

    • That is why the word sic is written after it’s, to indicate that it is spelled incorrectly. However, the word sic must be enclosed in brackets in the quotation: “…it’s [sic] lid…” More information is available in the “Using [sic] Properly” blog.)

  2. Rajkumar SP says:

    is it right to italicize inside brackets? Am authoring a book, is it proper to italicize throughout wherever i put things in a bracket? Please do help me in this regard.

  3. Holly says:

    What is the reason for this use of brackets?
    Nat[ional] Socialism has brought about the end of the…
    Nat[ional] Socialists—and perhaps it’s benevolent Providence…

  4. Sandra says:

    Is the use of brackets in this sentence correct??

    Mr. Stanley addressed the Committee by stating, “Your role [as members of the Joint Finance Committee] is to review the budget and determine whether the request is an appropriate one to fund education in the district.”

    • As long as you or another person have added the words in brackets to Mr. Stanley’s original quote, the brackets are correctly used. If the words in the brackets are part of Mr. Stanley’s original quotation, they should be in parentheses. Please see our rules on Parentheses and Brackets for more information.

  5. All Around Word Nerd says:

    What about their use as footnote designators in cases where real word processing footnotes are impossible? Is this just an Internet informalism, or is there some policy about this?


    In the diagram [1], we show that the Mechanical Safing and Arming Device, attaches to the warhead anterior to the shaped charges shown in figure 3.5 [2].

    [[1]] Web_link_to_diagram
    [[2]] very_long_web_link_that_would_have_disrupted_the_former_text

  6. Cari Nolt says:

    Is it possible to delete a word from a quote and replace it with a word in brackets?

    • We do not recommend deleting words from an original quote. Brackets are used to clarify or add to an original quote. For example, the Associated Press Stylebook writes “include the unclear word or phrase before the parenthetical clarification; deleting it creates questions in a reader’s mind.” However, the Chicago Manual of Style mentions “Sometimes the bracketed material replaces rather than amplifies the original word or words.” Thus, in practice, you may occasionally see exceptions. Other options might include clarifying either through a footnote or, instead of using a quote, paraphrase the original.

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