Exclamation point Newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter,
The Exclamation Point!
NPD logo

“The writer who neglects punctuation, or mispunctuates, is liable to be misunderstood.... For the want of merely a comma, it often occurs that an axiom appears a paradox, or that a sarcasm is converted into a sermonoid.”
Edgar Allan Poe, “Marginalia,” Graham’s Magazine, Feb. 1848


You can use brackets to include explanatory words or phrases within quoted language:
Lew Perkins, the Director of Athletic Programs, said, “Pumita Espinoza, the new soccer coach [at Notre Dame Academy] is going to be a real winner.”

If you are quoting material and you’ve had to change the capitalization of a word or change a pronoun to make the material fit into your sentence, enclose that changed letter or word(s) within brackets:
Espinoza charged her former employer with “falsification of [her] coaching record.”

Also within quotations, you could enclose [sic] within brackets to show that misspelled words or inappropriately used words are not your own typos or blunders but are part of an accurately rendered quotation:
Reporters found three mispelings [sic] in the report.

You can use brackets to include parenthetical material inside parenthetical material:
Chernwell was poet laureate of Bermuda, (a largely honorary position [unpaid]), for 10 years.

— Capital Community College Foundation
Guide to Grammar and Writing —

Provide an explanation if the author uses something your audience isn’t likely to understand — “The first words of Joyce’s ‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan’ are Introibo ad altare dei [‘I will go to the altar of God’].” You might need to supply a detail not in the original quotation, especially if your reader is likely to be confused: “As Fairbanks notes, ‘The death of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia [Mississippi] marked a turning point.’” You might also provide a first name: “It was [George] Eliot’s most successful work.” Always the question is whether the clarification will help your audience.

If you’re changing a single word or a short phrase, especially a pronoun, and the word isn’t especially interesting in its own right, it’s okay to omit the original and replace it with the bracketed interpolation: you can change “In that year, after much deliberation, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation” to “In [1862], after much deliberation, [Lincoln] issued the Emancipation Proclamation.”

— Lynch, Guide to Grammar and Style —

For information about usage of brackets, click here to consult one of the many style books listed on the Resources page


Contact Jeff Rubin for more information about punctuation
(510) 724-9507