I have difficulty understanding why in this article approximately half of the quotes start with a letter in square brackets. What is the reason?

Some examples:

"[S]ame-sex segregation is a group phenomenon that arises from social processes that are related to gender identity and labeling common to all members of a sex, rather than to similarities in sex-typed activities."

"[t]he mental analog of sex: one's maleness, femaleness, etc., as seen from their own perspective"


2 Answers 2


In many kinds of formal writing, any change to the source text made in a direct quote, no matter how minor, must be indicated with square brackets. This includes capitalization.

If the original quote was:

Everyone has a magic pencil!

and you use it like this:

In the end, the lesson the author wants to get across is that "[e]veryone has a magic pencil."

Strangely, this is usually not applied to punctuation ending a quote--but that will depend on your specific style guide.


In written English, it's common when quoting to place words that weren't part of the original text, but are required for comprehension, in square brackets. In this case, it's used conform to capitalisation conventions.

For instance, if the original text read:

We don't need him anymore, rude Mr Lang. The others were brilliant in the planning meeting, but he was difficult.

And I didn't want to quote it all:

"We don't need him [Mr. Lang]"

  • 3
    I think it would be more common in this type of example to replace the pronoun with the proper noun, rather than have both: "We don't need [Mr. Lang] any more." May 2, 2014 at 19:30
  • 2
    A better example of the type of use you're talking about would be something like this: "John [Smith, musician friend] has taught me so much!" You see this sort of thing in interviews when the interviewee is talking about their acquaintance by first name, but the reader needs context to know which "John" that the interviewee is talking about. May 2, 2014 at 19:33
  • @starsplusplus I wonder whether there is any corpus data to support this? As far as I know, both are used - I can find examples in newspapers, for instance - but I don't know that you would remove anything from the original quote, because that would be changing the quote, right? Technically, even though it's highly implied (and almost certainly the case) that Mr. Lang is the him referred to, it's always possible that the speaker meant otherwise, which could cause issues with misattribution, etc...
    – jimsug
    May 2, 2014 at 23:51
  • @starsplusplus and I don't know whether it's better... it's certainly different!
    – jimsug
    May 2, 2014 at 23:52

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