Brackets in Quotes: Guide to Appropriate Usage

Brackets are paired punctuation marks in the English language and can be challenging to use correctly. They are primarily used in writing to provide more information about a quote. But there’s more. This article discusses brackets in quotes and highlights the rules that apply for their proper usage in writing.

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What are Brackets?

Brackets, or square brackets [ ] are a common quotation mark. They typically accompany a quote or surrounding text to provide clarification or additional information. Brackets in quotes are used to mark-off phrases that have been taken out of context. The words inside the brackets often explain a word or phrase within the quote.

When you insert words to a quote without enclosing them in brackets, you alter the quote and end up with a misquote. A misquote can often have negative repercussions, especially in academic and professional writing.

Brackets and the words inside them should be considered separate from the other parts of the sentence. Ideally, the quote outside the bracket should still make sense if the words inside the bracket are removed.


Original Sentence: Juliette practiced for the competition.

Sentence with bracket: Juliette practiced [all night] for the competition.

Uses of Brackets

Brackets are the ideal punctuation mark to use when you need to introduce a word or phrase into a quote. Below are the common uses of brackets.

To give further details or comment on a direct quotation.

1. According to Martha, “the [school] library has valuable learning resources.”

*School is added to specify which library Martha was referring to. Its omission wouldn’t make the sentence incomplete.*

2. On Michael’s report card, the class teacher indicated that he has been “stubborn, playful and a class bullly [sic] everyone is scared off.”

*Sic is a Latin word that means (“thus, so”). It indicates that the writer copied the quotation exactly but believes that the word before sic is miswritten.*

To indicate necessary changes made in a word.

Original sentence: “In writing, use brackets to indicate essential information added to block or direct quotes.”

Altered sentence: After studying the bracket handout, Michelle writes her essay “us[ing] brackets to indicate essential information added to block or direct quotes.”

Parenthesis with Brackets

Sometimes, it is necessary to use both parentheses and brackets in a single sentence or a quoted text. For example:

To cite a source, you would want to add brackets like this:

Hannah wrote about her love for children in her book (The Power of Humanity [2012]).

Brackets in Quotes: Rules for Proper Usage

  • Use brackets to include words that are not part of the original quotes. For example, when giving further details, clarification, or explanation to the quote.
  • Put the Latin word sic in brackets to indicate that the quote was copied exactly, and when pointing out an error.
  • Use brackets to indicate changes made in a word within a quote.
  • Use brackets to cite a source within a parenthesis.
  • When you italicize or underline words in a quote for emphasis, specify in a bracket that they are not part of the original quote. For example, Mary exclaimed, “the museum is really big [emphasis added]!”
  • Use a bracket to substitute the word or phrase for the original quote if it is objectionable. For example, According to Jerry, ‘if we don’t take advantage of the event [expletive], it’s our loss!”

Punctuating Brackets

Exclamation points, question marks, and periods should be placed after the closing bracket if they belong to the surrounding sentence. If the punctuation belong to the words inside the brackets, they should be placed before the closing brackets.


According to James, “the hurricane [a violent wind!] claimed many lives.”

According to James, “the hurricane [a violent wind] claimed many lives!”

However, there’s an exception to this rule when using commas. A comma must never be placed before a closing bracket because the words in the bracket only clarify that outside. Where there is a need for a comma, it should always come after the closing bracket.

Incorrect: William declared, “After breakfast [fries and sauce,] I’m going back to bed.”

Correct: William declared, “After breakfast [fries and sauce], I’m going back to bed.”

To Wrap Up

The inclusion of brackets within quotes can be somewhat confusing. They are especially problematic when it comes to punctuating them.

A variety of rules apply to using and punctuating brackets correctly. Go over the rules highlighted in this article as you practice to ensure you’re using brackets the appropriate way!

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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