parentheses, brackets, and bracesStay the course

Paren­the­ses are for sep­a­rat­ing ci­ta­tions or other asides from the body text. Brack­ets show changes within quoted ma­te­r­ial. Braces—some­times known as curly brack­ets—are not typ­i­cally used ex­cept in tech­ni­cal and math­e­mat­i­cal writing.


In gen­eral, these marks should not adopt the for­mat­ting of the sur­rounded material.

[Exit Music (For a Film)]wrong
[Exit Music (For a Film)]right
[Exit Music (For a Film)]wrong
[Exit Music (For a Film)]right

But some­times, due to its slant, an italic char­ac­ter will col­lide with a ro­man paren­the­sis. In that case, it’s fine to ital­i­cize the paren­the­ses—read­ers will no­tice the col­li­sion more than the de­par­ture from convention.

(yells offstage at Biff)oops
(yells offstage at Biff)better
by the way
  • Why do braces get prime real es­tate on com­puter key­boards? Be­cause they’re part of the syn­tax of nearly every soft­ware-pro­gram­ming lan­guage. You may not use braces, but mod­ern life wouldn’t be pos­si­ble with­out them.

  • Don’t fonts have kern­ing so that char­ac­ters won’t col­lide?” Yes, but kern­ing only works be­tween char­ac­ters of the same font size and style. In sit­u­a­tions where you have a ro­man char­ac­ter next to a bold or italic char­ac­ter, the only cure is vigilance.