Grammar: Braces Usage

The usage of grammar braces follows a special set of rules that are fairly easy to learn. Braces, a type of bracket also called curly brackets, are not used often in writing. Check out some examples to see how this type of punctuation can be used.

grammar braces, brackets, parentheses grammar braces, brackets, parentheses

When to Use Braces in Grammar

The purpose of a set of braces ( { } ) is to set off any incidental or optional information or thoughts.

  • In formal writing, braces are used for math equations, music chords, computer programming commands, or creating a list of equal choices.
  • For informal writing braces, like brackets or parentheses, can be used anywhere.

How to Use Grammar Braces

On a qwerty keyboard, the left and right curly braces are found on the same keys as the square brackets. To use them, hold down the “shift” key as you press the bracket button.

The main uses for braces punctuation in writing are when a writer presents or creates a list of equal choices, a list of music chords, or includes a number set. Use the brace that points left at the start and the brace that points right at the end.

Examples of Braces in Grammar

Examples of how to use braces in writing can help you understand their purpose.

  • She highlighted six numbers {2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12} on the ruler she made.
  • His behavior changed at pivotal ages {5, 11, 14, 20}.
  • Choose a color {red, white, blue, pink} to paint the wall.
  • Which ice cream topping is your favorite {chocolate sauce, sprinkles, caramel, cherries}?
  • He played his favorite chords [ {c, e, g} {e, g, c2} {g, c2, e2} ] as he tried to write a love song.

Other Types of Punctuation Brackets

While braces, brackets, and parentheses are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Each type of bracket has a slightly different use that is specific.

Square Brackets

Square brackets ( [ ] )are especially important in academic writing because they add information to a quotation that does not appear in the original quotation. Since quotations must be presented exactly as they are found, a square bracket allows the writer to interject explanation or clarification within the quotation itself.

Writers may need to change the tense of a verb to fit into the sentence or they may have found an error in the original quote. If writers want to add emphasis to words in the quote using bold or italic letters, this can be done and the explanatory note added in the square bracket.

Square bracket examples:

  • Misspelling in a quotation: We received the following reply to our query: "Thank yo [sic] for the invitation, but I will be unable to attend this year."
  • Adding italics to a quotation: "I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it [italics added]." Harry S. Truman

Angled Brackets

Angled brackets ( < > ) are only found in a reference page to denote a web address. According to recent MLA changes, citations no longer call for URLs in reference pages; so, the use of angled brackets is now optional.



Parentheses, ( ), are also known as round brackets and have the most usage in English writing. Parentheses are used in sentences to add additional information or provide information and detail that is helpful to have. An item placed in parentheses, such as a parenthetical expression, can often be set off using commas as well.

Parentheses examples:

  • The Three Musketeers ("Les Trois Mousquetaires" in French) was written by Alexandre Dumas.
  • Getting a patent (a right guaranteed by the constitution) can take several years to accomplish.

The Rare Use of Braces

In writing and grammar you aren’t likely to come across braces often. Now that you understand what braces are and how to use them as punctuation, explore the different ways you could format information without using braces or brackets.