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4 Punctuation

4.12 Brackets

The symbols (), [ ], {}, and < > are all brackets. Round brackets () are also called parentheses; [ ] are square brackets to the British, though often simply called brackets in US use; { } are braces or curly brackets; and < and > are angle brackets. For the use of brackets in mathematics see 14.6.5.

4.12.1 Parentheses

Parentheses or round brackets are used for digressions and explanations, as an alternative to paired commas or dashes. They are also used for glosses and translations, to give or expand abbreviations, and to enclose ancillary information, references, and variants:

  • He hopes (as we all do) that the project will be successful

  • Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia)

  • They talked about power politics (Machtpolitik)

  • TLS (Times Literary Supplement)

  • £2 billion ($3.1 billion)

  • Geoffrey Chaucer (1340–1400)

Parentheses are also used in enumerating items in a list (see Chapter 15).

4.12.2 Square brackets

Square brackets [ ] are used chiefly for comments, corrections, or translations made by a subsequent author or editor:

  • They [the Lilliputians] rose like one man

  • Daisy Ashford wrote The Young Visiters [sic]

For more on the use of brackets in quotations see Chapter 9.

4.12.3 Braces

Braces or curly brackets { } are used chiefly in mathematics, computing, prosody, music, and textual notation; their usage varies within each of these fields. A single brace may be used set vertically to link two or more lines of material together:

4.12.4 Angle brackets

Angle brackets < >, the less-than or greater-than signs (Unicode code points U+003C and U+003E respectively), sometimes known as wide angle brackets, are used in pairs to enclose computer code or tags. They are used singly in computing, economics, mathematics, and scientific work to show the relative size of entities, the logical direction of an argument, etc. In etymology they are used singly to mean ‘from, derived from’ (<) and ‘gives’ or ‘has given’ (>):

  • < Urdu murġῑ hen > murġ bird, fowl

In mathematics and science narrow angle brackets 〈 〉 are used (U+27E8 and U+27E9 mathematical left and right angle bracket respectively); in these fields < >, respectively, signify ‘less than’ and ‘greater than’. See 14.6.5.

Narrow angle brackets are also used to enclose conjecturally supplied words where a source is defective or illegible:

  • He came from Oxon: to be 〈pedagogue〉 to a neighbour of mine

Avoid angle brackets around URLs (see 18.8.3).

4.12.5 Punctuation with brackets

Rules governing punctuation are the same regardless of the type of bracket used. A complete sentence within brackets is capitalized and ends in a full point unless the writer has chosen to place it within another sentence:

  • The discussion continued after dinner. (This was inevitable.)

  • The discussion continued after dinner (this was inevitable).

No punctuation precedes the opening parenthesis except in the case of terminal punctuation before a full sentence within parentheses, or where parentheses mark divisions in the text:
  • We must decide (a) where to go, (b) whom to invite, and (c) what to take with us

4.12.6 Nested brackets

In normal running text, avoid using brackets within brackets. This is sometimes inevitable, as when matter mentioned parenthetically already contains parentheses. In such cases Oxford prefers double parentheses to square brackets within parentheses (the usual US convention). Double parentheses are closed up, without spaces:

  • the Chrysler Building (1928–30, architect William van Alen (not Allen))

  • the album’s original title ((I) Got My Mojo Working (But It Just Won’t Work on You)) is seldom found in its entirety

References to, say, law reports and statutes vary between parentheses and square brackets; the prescribed conventions should be followed (see also Chapter 13).

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