On Writing: Let’s Talk Grammar and Punctuation for a While
(Post Number Eleven)
Perky Parentheses and Bold Brackets
If you’re like me with your writing, you sometimes might be confused concerning when to use parentheses. Should you use em dashes instead? Or how about commas?
Let’s first define “parentheses” so we understand what in the world these little smiley face lines are used for.
Definition One: “Parentheses usually set off material that is less closely related to the rest of the sentence than that enclosed in em dashes or commas.” (The CMOS, 15th edition, The University of Chicago Press, 2003, p. 265)
Instead of going in to detailed descriptions of how to use the parentheses, I’m going to list some examples for you:
Example One: The judge decided that all the dogs (collies, etc.) in that division were worthy of a blue ribbon.
Example Two: The championship soccer game that the Stallions won (under difficult conditions of freezing rain) was a thriller.
Example Three: The Book of John (see chapter 3) mentions Jesus as God’s Son and Savior who came to save us from our sin.
Definition Two: “Parentheses are used to enclose glosses of unfamiliar terms or translations of foreign terms—or, if the term is given in English, to enclose the original word.” (The CMOS, 15th edition, The University of Chicago Press, 2003, p 266)
Example One: Downloading “Dropbox” (a free program on the web that allows you to transfer files from one computer to the other instantly without a flash drive) is a godsend for writers.
Example Two: In my Amish fiction book, I used the word “boppli” (baby) many times.
Example Three: The word for mother (mamm) in my Amish books occurs dozens of times.
In the CMOS, a few more examples of complicated uses for parentheses are listed, which most of us writers would not need to know. So for simplicity’s sake, we’ll stop with the perky parentheses plug here and move on to the bold brackets.
To use brackets, or “square brackets,” properly, all you need to remember is that they are used to enclose words that are inserted by a second author inside a first author’s original work.
What? Say again?
You would use brackets if you inserted your own words in material from the following types of already printed material: quoted matter, reprints, anthologies, editorial interpolations, explanations, translations of foreign words, or corrections. Allow me give you some examples cited in the CMOS, 15th edition:
Example One: “They [the free-silver Democrats] asserted that the ratio could be maintained.”
Example Two: “Many CF [cystic fibrosis] patients have been helped by the new therapy.”
Example Three: Satire, Jebb tells us, “is the only [form] that has a continuous development.”
Example Four: “The differences between society [Gesellschaft] and community [Gemeinde] will now be analyzed.”
I believe the only other use of brackets that we might need to know is when they are used within a set of parentheses. Here is an example; take notice where the period is at the end:
Example: (For further explanation see Strunk and White’s Element of Style  and Webster’s Dictionary .)
I hope I haven’t totally confused you with this parentheses/bracket blog. These two little punctuation tips might not be of use to us every day, but once in a while, we do need to know how to use them effectively, so perhaps these tidbits today will refine your writing style a little more as you write your way to that next published piece.
Next time, I’m going to post a Q&A blog about one of our Writers of Any Genre members. If you’d like to be interviewed and have your gorgeous picture posted on my blog too, please let me know. I’d be absolutely thrilled beyond description to feature you on my Writers’ Tips blog.