Learning when and how to use punctuation marks does not sound enticing, let alone knowing when to place a few of them together in place together.
Today, we’ll understand in detail what brackets are and when to use a comma before them in sentences.
Let’s begin with an overview.
Correctly using a comma before brackets
Brackets are some of the most underrated punctuation marks and some of the most incorrectly-referred writing devices to date.
Brackets are punctuation marks used to clarify the meaning of a sentence. They come in pairs and consist of at least four different forms.
Rounded brackets are what we mostly know as “parentheses,” while square brackets are what we call “brackets” or “crochets.”
square brackets […]
Meanwhile, curly brackets are what we generally call “braces,” and angle brackets are those that are called “chevrons.”
angle brackets <…>
In some particular instances, commas need to be used along with brackets to create grammatically-correct and stylistically-pleasing sentences.
Let’s thoroughly take a look at each of these cases. We would mostly focus on rounded and square brackets because they are the most notorious perpetrators of today’s issue.
When brackets introduce a serial list
There are different ways to present serial information to our readers; one of them is to use brackets within sentences.
This technique is often used to conserve white space, especially if we don’t have much of them or if we need to follow some rules.
We need a comma before parenthetical or rounded brackets in the following example because the goal is to list the items in a regular sentence format.
That said, this means we can also choose to list the items in bullet format if we want to improve readability.
These symptoms include (1) frequent urination, (2) nausea), (3) thirst, and (4) vision blur.
Knowing when exactly to use a comma before or after a parenthesis is tricky. But, just remember that a comma likely appears after rather than before parenthetical marks in general.
And by the way, whether or not we should use a comma before “and” in a list is also a matter of preference. What’s important is to be consistent with the choice throughout the text.
When brackets are preceded by a parenthetical interruption
Similarly, we’ll also find a preceding comma to a set of brackets found within a sentence when a parenthetical idea comes before it.
A parenthetical idea is a word, phrase, or clause that interrupts the natural flow of a sentence for stylistic reasons.
Parenthetical interruptions are normally enclosed with a pair of commas to mark their stylistic independence from the rest of the sentence.
That said, these parenthetical interruptions are considered non-essential elements because they are only added to enrich the sentence’s meaning.
As parenthetical ideas can be freely inserted anywhere, they can also be written in series: meaning two parenthetical ideas can be placed beside each other.
This writing technique can be a bit tricky to make use of because they make sentences lengthy and condensed.
To solve the issue, some writers choose to enclose the second parenthetical idea with brackets so the reader can distinguish it from the first one.
When this happens, the closing comma of the first parenthetical idea automatically becomes the second parenthetical idea’s pre-comma.
At other times, a parenthetical idea can also come in a complete sentence format set off with brackets that can be found within a paragraph.
When the parenthetical idea is a whole sentence, the period comes inside the brackets, which also means right before the closing bracket.
When the second clause is a bracketed parenthetical idea
A comma may also come before brackets when the second clause of the sentence is intentionally treated as a parenthetical idea.
Doing so signals the reader that the clause found inside the pair of brackets is considered more of a writer’s afterthought.
Using brackets around the parenthetical second clause allows the writer to speak his or her mind directly to the reader.
This would seem like the writer is whispering his or her thoughts to the reader.
Remember, though, that the use of brackets in the example above is optional. This should only be done to achieve the “whispering-writer” effect.
Avoiding commas before brackets
There are also cases when we should not put a comma before any piece of bracketed information.
With the many uses of brackets, it is essential that we only tackle the most relevant circumstances related to today’s topic.
Listed below are the cases in which no comma should be used before brackets. This time, though, we’ll talk more about square brackets.
No comma before brackets when brackets are used to provide more context
Square brackets are less frequently than used rounded brackets or parentheses. On that note, it is natural that many people are unfamiliar with how they really work.
One of the several use cases of square brackets is to add more context to the idea being presented. This means they are used to show the “finest details” of events.
This specific case is largely seen in quoted statements, where the original remark is rephrased to present another perspective.
Quoted remark: My sister said, “Paul [her friend from Boston] lives in a cozy cottage by the lake.”
If we think about it, no comma should be seen before the bracketed idea in the sentence above because the enclosed remark is something reported rather than directly stated by the source.
Whereas, the statement enclosed with quotation marks is something directly said by the source of the remark.
Using commas with quotes or quotation marks is also another interesting topic that deserves a more thorough explanation.
Feel free to read more about that some other time.
No comma before brackets when square brackets are used for grammatical adjustments
Another use of square brackets, in particular, is to suggest grammatical errors from the source of information.
These grammatical errors include misspellings, incorrect grammar, and incorrect word usage. This quoted remark that looks erroneous is marked by the word “sic” enclosed with brackets.
Remember to avoid using a comma before the grammatical adjustment marker “sic” enclosed with brackets.
For instance, this can be done when a misspelling occurs, and the writer does not want to change the original statement for some reason.
Quoted remark: The vet said, “It was necessery [sic] for us to put him down.”
No comma before brackets when square brackets are used inside parentheses
When a parenthetical idea appears inside another parenthesized idea, it is suggested that we use square brackets around the inner parenthetical.
This will make the sentence more readable and visually pleasing compared to using two sets of parentheses.
When the inner parenthetical idea is more of a writer’s thought used to clarify the statement, no comma should be seen before the brackets.
In the example above, a parenthetical idea is placed within a parenthetical idea that is also within another spoken narrative.
The inner parenthetical idea is grammatically unconnected to the outer one, and hence, no comma should be used before the brackets.
The outer parenthetical idea is also a side comment that does not grammatically flow with the main statement, which is why there’s no need for a comma before the opening parenthesis.
Now, before we wrap this up, here’s a summary on when exactly to use commas before brackets:
When do we need a comma before brackets?
We would need to use commas before brackets when brackets are used to introduce a serial list of items or ideas, when brackets are preceded by a parenthetical interruption, and when the second clause of the sentence is intentionally shown as a bracketed parenthetical idea.
Frequently Asked Questions on “Commas Before Brackets”
Can you put a comma before a closing bracket?
When the sentence structure requires, the comma goes outside or right after the closing bracket and not before it. A period, question mark, or exclamation point may go before the closing bracket when the punctuation mark is part of the parenthetical remark. However, commas should generally go outside.
What is the difference between brackets and dashes?
Brackets, which come in different types like rounded and square ones, are most likely used to restate the meaning of a preceding word or phrase. Whereas, dashes are mainly used to introduce a new idea that would further clarify the sentence’s meaning. M-dashes, the longer ones, are often used to do so.
Do we put the full stop or period before or after brackets?
A full stop or period may go either outside or inside brackets. They go outside when they are used to conclude the main sentence, but they go inside to conclude the parenthetical idea placed inside the brackets.
Punctuation marks have been infamously famous for the headaches they cause too many readers and writers alike – native or not.
But, as we’ve already tackled how some of them work today, deciding when and where to put them within sentences should come a little less concerning now.
Join us for more interesting hot language issues next time. See you around!
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.