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Note 3 – The use of ‘brackets’ and ‘bracketing commas’

The rule is, don’t put the first bracket or bracketing comma in and then foolishly omit the second.  This could just annoy the reader and may give your writing a completely different meaning to the one you set out to give.

I’ll start with a definition (as I happened to buy this book today!).  ‘Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation’ by John Seely defines brackets as “a pair of punctuation marks used to indicate that the words enclosed are not essential to the meaning of the sentence, but provide additional information”.

The words in the brackets themselves are known as being in ‘parenthesis’ or a ‘parathentic expression’ and contain comments and details that don’t form part of the argument or main body of the sentence.

Instead of using brackets you can enclose the expression with commas or, as Lynne Truss explains in her book ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’, ‘commas in pairs’ or ‘bracketing commas’.  Lynne is very funny in her writing and explains on page 90 that “the comma marks the place where the reader can – as it where – place an elegant two-pronged fork and cleanly lift out a section of the sentence, leaving no obvious damage to the whole”.  You will have noticed that she also uses dashes in her sentence which is another paired bracketing method.

The part in brackets or enclosed in commas, could also be viewed as if the writer is talking directly to the reader.

My thoughts – Over a year ago, I read about brackets, commas and parathentic expressions in ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk & White and since then I have had lots of practise.  Page 2 of the book describes this as ‘enclosing parenthetic expressions between commas’  Breaking up my sentences correctly, has helped the flow of my writing, added pauses and made it easier to read.

The way I check my sentences, is to see if it still looks gramatically correct once the words in brackets (or words between commas) are taken away.  Coincidentally, my last sentence can be used as an example of this.  The part ‘or words between commas’ is additional information.

With reference to my previous blogs – The word however used in yesterday’s blog (note 2) could be seen as a parenthetic.  According to Strunk & White, it is not easy to decide if a ‘brief phrase’ or ‘single word’ is a parenthetic.  I feel, however, that putting the commas around the single word reads better (as used in this sentence).  Not sure if I just used two parenthetics in one sentence?  Comments welcome!

It’s late again, so I must sign off now.  Thank you for taking the time to read this.  For any new readers, just checking that you have read my first blog on 30 April ‘My writing challenge’ as it gives you a bit of background to the challenge I’ve set myself.

Until tomorrow…..


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Reference list

William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White  The Elements of Style, fiftieth anniversary edition (2009), USA

John Seely  The Oxford A-Z of Grammar & Punctuation, USA

Lynne Truss – Eats, Shoots & Leaves (2007), UK


About Sandra Madeira

I am a full-time working mum with a passion for writing and inspiring others. Subjects I tend to blog about are life skills, parenting, decluttering, worklife balance, etc. At the moment I am on a decluttering mission creating space in my house, garden and mind. I have challenged myself to do at least ten minutes a day and write about it. Have a good day! Sandra Freelance Writer



  1. Pingback: Note 160 – Should you put a comma after ‘bracketing commas’? « My writing challenge - October 7, 2011

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